When it comes to net neutrality analogies, many people opt for the internet superhighway one where there may be fast lanes and slow lanes or, on a content neutral internet, all lanes are equal. Since it’s hard to bring in the gatekeepers who set the rules for the internet on that kind of analogy, it might be easier to think of net neutrality or non-neutrality as related to a toll plaza, where the gatekeepers, such as AT&T, Verizon, or Comcast, charge different amounts and cause varying delays to the vehicles attempting to pass through their gates.
On a net neutral superhighway, the gatekeepers at the toll plaza charge roughly the same amount to every vehicle and pass them all through with equal alacrity. On an internet superhighway that is not neutral and grants wide discretion to the gatekeepers at the toll plaza, toll charges vary a great deal from vehicle to vehicle, and the gatekeepers might also hold up certain vehicles, making them late to their destination.
The Great Belt Fixed Link toll plaza in Denmark. Different colored lights indicate different payment methods. Photo by heb.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, after going through the motions of a public comment period through the summer on his proposed, Orwellian-named “Restoring Internet Freedom” gutting of the 2015 net neutrality rules, announced today that the FCC board of three Republicans and two Democrats will vote on rules changes on December 14. The fix is in, as it has been since early this year when Mr. Pai expressed his intention to overturn the 2015 rules, and there is little doubt how the majority will vote on December 14. It is still possible between now and then to bring enough public pressure to bear on Congress for that body to influence either the FCC board vote, which is not likely, or put in motion legislation to override FCC rules on rescinding net neutrality, which is the more likely outcome, if there is to be a positive one at all for neutrality advocates.
Regulation of internet access is too vital to leave up to the unelected five member board of a regulatory commission. The current FCC board has also recently demonstrated its irresponsibility to the country at large when it did away with rules preventing monopolization of local media markets by a single company, recklessly opening the gates to allow Sinclair Broadcasting to consolidate its control across the country.
In the 1974 film Blazing Saddles, directed by Mel Brooks, the citizens of Rock Ridge set up a toll booth to slow down the bad guys coming to destroy their town. Warning: foul language.
Congress could put an end to FCC favoritism toward big business by passing legislation, instead of allowing the FCC board to vote on rules after the formality of a meaningless public comment period, since the board Republicans will almost certainly vote against net neutrality despite the majority of public comments in favor of it. Congress is also beholden to big business, but at least it retains some ability to bend to the public will. As it stands now, after the December 14 vote the new rules will likely get challenged in court, and the legal struggle will eat up years, and all the while the internet gatekeepers will make fortunes extorting internet users who need to pass their toll booths.
Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), requires confirmation by the Senate as a board member before the end of the year to continue with the agency. If he is not confirmed for another four year term and is removed from office, the current president will most likely replace him with another Republican and advance the nomination of that person or another of the board’s two Republican members to the chairmanship. In the end, getting rid of Chairman Pai may not alter the current course of the FCC toward revoking Net Neutrality rules and allowing the merger of the Sinclair Broadcast Group with Tribune Media, but his removal does offer the opportunity to change course, however slim that may be.
Since his advancement to the chairmanship at the beginning of the year, Mr. Pai has worked to dismantle Net Neutrality under the Orwellian rubric “Restoring Internet Freedom”. The public comment period on the proposed rule change closed at the end of August, and now everyone awaits the decision of the five member board, three Republicans and two Democrats. It’s difficult to say what may be taking so long, considering that Mr. Pai has the votes, and by his actions earlier in the summer it appeared the fix was in anyway. Perhaps he’s having a hard time drafting the new regulations and lowering the bar enough to reflect proper deference to the major players like Comcast.
In the 1972 film Cabaret, Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey sing “Money, Money”.
The other major issue on Chairman Pai’s agenda is the merger of Sinclair with Tribune Media, which he favors. To advance his position for taking away regulations that treat Internet Service Providers as common carriers and therefore subjects them to rules of Net Neutrality, Mr. Pai uses language about protecting the consumer and getting the government out of the way of innovation, yet when it comes to allowing one enormous broadcast company, Sinclair, to become even larger and therefore monopolize some smaller media markets around the country, he suddenly and conveniently forgets his previous arguments. Monopolies have historically neither looked out for consumers in any way other than to take their money, nor have they had any incentive to innovate in any way other than how to take even more money.
The comments from the public in favor of keeping Net Neutrality regulations in place have outstripped the comments against, and to the limited extent the public has been paying attention to the Sinclair/Tribune merger, most are against it. Will the FCC, and in particular Chairman Pai, listen to the public or to corporate interests? It’s not hard to imagine the answer to that question if you subscribe to the wisdom of the comedian Lily Tomlin, who said “No matter how cynical I get, I can’t keep up.” Be that as it may, the public retains the option through Congress to say to Mr. Pai “You’re fired!”
“My, What Big Ears You Have”, a 1967 episode of the sitcom Bewitched, with Dick York as the beleaguered Darrin Stephens, whose mother-in-law has cast a spell on him that causes his ears to grow every time he lies.