Primal Screaming

The howl could be heard throughout the tortured land last week. It was a primal scream. The Internet was dead! The future was over! New creativity and entrepreneurial vigor had been cruelly deceived and emasculated by the forces of evil led by the nefarious head of the FCC. You did know, of course, the screamers noted at any opportunity, that he used to be, wait for it….cover your children’s eyes and ears….a LOBBYIST!

Yes, it’s true. Tom Wheeler, head of the FCC, had announced (after someone had leaked the news to the press and the clearly orchestrated screams had already been printed) that the Commission was going to consider… Consider, mind you, a new set of rules to respond to calls for regulations formalizing “net neutrality.” A concept that, in its simplest form has been the norm since the inception of the Internet.

Why was this obvious shill for the industries he once served, both cable and wireless, now proposing “net neutrality” rules at all? Well, the same folks now caterwauling have insisted these rules be written for several years now. They foresee a world where the Internet transporters become so powerful and greedy that they choose to wall off information, only allow access to material they like, or they make, and the creativity will die. Of course this hasn’t happened and there is scant evidence that it ever would or could, but never mind, the primal screamers know it will come to pass unless hard and fast rules are imposed right now! And Tom didn’t propose the ones they wanted… So the orchestrated screaming started in unison before the actual proposal was ever even made, and the press dutifully headlined the imminent demise of everything they hold dear on the Internet.

What nonsense. Unfortunately, character assassination seems to go hand in hand with their manufactured screams. It’s true, Wheeler became an expert in the field before he went to the FCC. And I’m sure we will hear similar attacks this week as he is at the NCTA Show with Michael Powell, a former FCC Chair who became NCTA’s head. Proof of the conspiracy, they will say, while ignoring that other experts, like the former head of the largest consumer lobbying group left his post, became a key leader in the antitrust division of the Justice Department, and now is once again head of a major user lobbying group. That, apparently, is ok but what Wheeler and Powell have done is not. Oh, and the former head of that user group is now a key member of Wheeler’s executive staff! I know, “…mindless consistency,” and all that.

What the FCC proposal is actually all about is trying to formalize some “net neutrality” concepts, most of which nobody has any problem with, while at the same time not create industrial policy that might constrain new business models for broadband. After all, the development of the Internet to date, without these rules, has been nothing short of spectacular. Don’t screw it up with primal screaming!

Of course Wheeler has to abide by two court decisions as well. His proposal may do that; allowing “reasonable discrimination” (which is also specifically allowed under Title II Common Carrier regulation) while saying abuses will be handled on a case by case basis.

I don’t necessarily believe we need any more formalized rules at this point. The antitrust rules would suffice, but the Wheeler proposal is not something to scream irrationally about, it’s something to applaud and take seriously.

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