By the looks of my inbox, there are two significant events are unfolding. First, Cyber Monday is redistributing the income of millions of Americans including mine into the coffers of Amazon and Walmart. Second, it won’t matter because the internet and thus the world coming to an end.
I won’t go into Cyber Monday any more than to say that only a misbehaving Amazon check-out page saved me from certain financial ruin. However, it seems clear that by the end of the day, online retailers will be celebrating the year in which they overtook physical stores in total Cyber Monday sales.
The net neutrality madness is another matter entirely. Washington DC, demonstrators have been picketing the Federal Communications Commission at all hours of the day and night. Crowds have been gathering outside Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s house in Northern Virginia. Others have been telling Pai’s children that he’s a murderer of innocents, or worse.
Many of those folks have been filling the email inboxes of journalists in Washington to an extent that we rarely see. The emailed claims are varied, but they have a common thread, which is that the FCC is about to end the Internet in some horrible, but unspecified, manner. They also claim to have “facts” from a wide variety of sources, many of which don’t actually exist.
These attacks on the impending FCC action are similar in a disturbing number of ways to the fake news that surrounded Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 elections. For example, much of the email I’ve received warns about how the big companies and the major internet sites stand to reap huge benefits, but those same assertions fail to account for the fact that those companies are on record as favoring the classification to Title II.
Other warnings appear telling me about the dangers of so-called “fast lanes” that would hurt internet users, yet they fail to acknowledge that those awful fast lanes have existed for years, continued to exist under the Title II reclassification and will continue in the same manner regardless of whether the Title II classification continues as-is.
Those dreaded fast lanes are being run by third-party content delivery networks and by private networks being operated by major ISPs. What those organizations are doing is providing private networks that bypass much of the internet as a way to avoid congestion. This has been going on since the first day Akamai launched its first Content Delivery Network nearly 20 years ago.
Or perhaps the ISPs will throttle the content that they don’t like or that competes with a service that they sell. This could happen, but if it does, the Federal Trade Commission has a long history of taking action against such companies—or did until forced to stop by the reclassification and Open Internet Order of 2015.
Note that while the FTC had a track record of success, the FCC took no such actions after 2015.
Still the assertions continue, and still they appear to be devoid of a factual basis. There’s one set of advocates that predict that the courts will force the FCC to keep the reclassification of the internet under Title II. But they fail to mention that the move to Title II was the FCC’s effort to perform an end-run around the courts that had repeatedly told the commission that it couldn’t enforce net neutrality.
There’s another set of advocates that are claiming that the FCC does not have the authority to undo the reclassification that happened in 2015 and thus they will be stopped by the courts. But a thorough reading of the 2016 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, US Telecom v. FCC, makes it clear that the FCC has the authority to change the classification if the commission decides to.
If it had the legal authority to make this decision under Title II, then by the courts reasoning it also has the authority to remove it from Title II.
That decision has been appealed, but at this point the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t scheduled argument on the case. Apparently the Court is waiting to see what happens with the current classification moves.
What’s also become obvious amid all hysteria (which is what it is) related to net neutrality is that the so-called activists apparently aren’t active enough to actually read the proposed order, which was published along with the tentative agenda for the December open meeting.
I suspect that in some cases, this is willful ignorance, if only because reverting to boring, old facts is unlikely to drum up the kind of donation activity that is the lifeblood for some of the activists who are fighting the FCC action.
While some organizations have valid reasons for opposing the proposed FCC action, there are also many that are using the FCC as a means of fighting the current administration in the White House. It’s unfortunate that they are taking aim at an agency that’s currently operating within its charter.
The fact is that if these folks really want to ensure net neutrality, it’s not the FCC that can do it. Such an outcome can only happen with legislation, such as the bipartisan bill that was working its way through Congress in 2015. If you want to fight for net neutrality, it’s Congress that can fix the problem, not the FCC. It’s time to hold Congress accountable for enforcing network neutrality if that’s the goal of the activist groups.