Columbia University professor Tim Wu coined the phrase “net neutrality.” Now he’s written a pretty silly op ed piece in the New York Times trying to justify why the FCC should retain Title II common carrier regulations to enforce his construct of net neutrality by suggesting that without them the Internet could have failed. Oh, Wu. Here’s Tim’s definition of net neutrality in the piece: “Net neutrality refers to rules intended to ensure that broadband providers cannot block content or provide faster delivery to companies that pay more.” He said these policies were first initiated in the Bush administration and that rather than “blocking and throttling” being the major issues, as most folks still characterize it, he says it’s blocking … which no one has taken issue with for years, and “faster delivery to companies that pay more.” That’s “paid priority” or “fast lanes” or, in my effort to get folks to actually relate to what is being talked about, I prefer to refer to as “Express Mail.” More on that next week. Tim suggests that he’s just confused as to why anyone would fiddle with the rules as they are now. After all, he notes, “…one looks in vain for the problem that needs to be fixed.” But that’s exactly the point those of us make who note that in 2015, when broadband service was suddenly declared a utility/common carrier, to be regulated under Title II of the Communications Act, there similarly was no identifiable failure that needed to be fixed. The broadband revolution had been going on for many years very successfully without the need or demonstrated use for a massive new regulatory regime.
That’s today’s issue.Wu disingenuously posits that “net neutrality” can be credited with some of the success of services like Netflix and Amazon. That’s downright self-aggrandizement. Amazon was hugely successful long before there was a political move to add rate regulation through Title II to the mix. Netflix rolled out “House of Cards” two years before the Commission suddenly found it had to massively change the regulatory landscape in order to “save” it. Nonsense. After all the yelling and screaming we are about to be treated to, the issue is not blocking and throttling or the “freedom” of the Internet. As Tim noted, no one has ever shown a major existing problem related to those things, only unsupported apocalyptic fear mongering that things could, or might happen. We’ve just gone through an election where the same “fear motif” was used.
It’s not pretty whoever uses it. So now we get John Oliver on HBO promoting that fear and once again importuning folks who he acknowledges can’t understand the details about these issues to inundate the FCC with negative “comments” on a proposal to retain the core of “net neutrality” but in a far less draconian way. It would not include the notion that the staff could decide what is a legitimate or prohibited business plan for broadband with no prior written rules that could be assessed. He also doesn’t trust Congress to write broadband rules. John; Title II was written by Congress!
Oliver, amusingly, undermined his own “rally the troops” effort with a hilarious review of the nonsense many folks spew on the Internet. He then importuned those very same folks to spew to the FCC about Title II regulation! To what end? It’s still mostly uninformed nonsense, John, and rules are not established based on the number of viral “votes” any one group can muster. More next week.