For 83 years under the Communications Act of 1934, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been tasked with regulating radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. The commission has never directly represented the American people; its five commissioners are appointed by the President of the United States, leaving it a pawn in the hands of corrupt officials and a telecommunications oligopoly.
"We have, not one or two or three, but many, established monopolies in the United States. We have restricted credit, we have restricted opportunity, we have controlled development, and we have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated, governments in the civilized world - no longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and the duress of small groups of dominant men.
If the government is to tell big business men how to run their business, then don't you see that big business men have to get closer to the government even than they are now? Don't you see that they must capture the government, in order not to be restrained too much by it? They have already captured it. They don't have to get there. They are there."
Woodrow Wilson, The New Freedom, 1913
In 1992, under the purview of the FCC, internet service providers (ISPs) claimed they would deliver high-speed internet service across the country, building fiber optic networks in every state. These networks were to be made available to any local internet service provider, creating new jobs and increasing competition in the market. To pay for the proposed rollout, virtually every state offered ISPs significant tax incentives, and allowed the companies to charge customers higher prices and fees for internet access. Today, the American people have given ISPs (Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, et al) over $400 billion dollars.
They Took The Money And Ran
In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported only 50% of rural communities had access to broadband internet, highlighting ISPs' failure to build networks. Including urban areas, the rate was only marginally improved: 66%, leaving one third of the country without broadband access. The same year, PBS reported competition in the broadband market was virtually non-existent, leaving half of Americans with the false "choice" of a single broadband provider (25+ Mbps) and a telephone-based provider (1 Mbps Max). This is the very definition of a duopoly, in which two suppliers collude to dominate the market. As a result, while consumers in other countries enjoy internet speeds 10x faster, Americans pay double or triple the price for slow internet access.
As tax benefits and inflated prices pushed ISP profits ever higher, executives spent the money on themselves. Last year, the CEO of Comcast was paid over $28 million including salary, bonuses, and stock options. The CEO of Verizon was paid over $17 million. While executives were busy pocketing American tax dollars, relaxed FCC regulations allowed ISPs to interfere with internet traffic, throttling and blocking competing services around the globe. This is what a "free market" looks like:
Comcast secretly blocked file-sharing and peer-to-peer communications using a technique known as TCP Reset Spoofing, and refused to confirm their actions for two years until the Associated Press and the Electronic Frontier Foundation published reports.
AT&T and Apple made a secret agreement to ban iPhone apps which allowed users to make phone calls over the AT&T network, instead forcing app developers to cripple their software or face rejection from Apple's App Store.
MetroPCS announced it would block streaming video from all sources except YouTube over its 4G network. The company initially sued the FCC to force the issue, then agreed to a buyout from T-Mobile and dropped the suit.
Verizon prevented its wireless network users from sharing their monthly data with any other device (known as "tethering") unless users agreed to pay a $20 monthly fee. Although the FCC eventually ordered Verizon to drop the fee, the company simply rolled it into more expensive monthly plans.
These practices and others, tantamount to legal misrepresentation and extortion, led to an increase in consumer complaints and lawsuits, and in 2015 the FCC was forced to issue a net neutrality order, codifying broadband internet as a utility service under three bright-line rules.
No Blocking: ISPs cannot block legal content or legal methods of access.
No Throttling: ISPs cannot slow speeds based on the content or method of access.
No Paid Prioritization: ISPs cannot accept payment in return for favorable access.
Not only does net neutrality prevent interference with internet traffic, it also guarantees freedom of speech online. Despite overwhelming support from Americans (including 72% of conservatives), three of the five FCC commissioners have already signaled their intent to repeal net neutrality. Given the likely outcome of the scheduled vote, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has already issued her dissent.
Putting the vote in the hands of the FCC eliminates the voice of the American people, but Congress has the power to overrule a regulation. So ISPs bribed Congress. Republicans in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin sold you and this nation to the telecom lobby for a total of $15.5 million dollars.
The Era Of Information Asymmetry
In 2014, CEO Mark Zuckerberg attempted to launch a free internet service in India, with a catch: the service would only connect to a handful of websites, and most importantly, to Facebook. Around the country, citizens recognized this as an extortion-based business model and vehemently rejected the offer, culminating in a nationwide demonstration to establish net neutrality laws.
What happened in India won't happen here. Perhaps the most insidious threat to the future of free speech is free internet. Without net neutrality, ISPs could offer a free internet package: Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, and Fox News. Those companies would pay a fortune to participate, but they would control what you search, what you watch, what you buy, and what you know. That's incredibly dangerous power, and a threat to democracy.
State attorneys general and digital rights groups including the EFF, Public Knowledge, and Free Press have promised to sue the FCC should they vote to repeal net neutrality. Jurisdiction will play a key role in their legal strategy given that some judges are more likely to stay the commission's order during the trial.
Editorial Disclosure: The CEO of Nefarious Laboratories currently holds a GMRS radio license, issued by the FCC.
Published December 08, 2017We depend on the support of readers like you to fund research initiatives and product development.