The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, has announced his intention to repeal an Obama-era rule, known as “net neutrality,” which prohibits Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from charging websites or apps for the ability to load ahead of potential competitors.
Pai’s chief grievance against the rule is that it ‘fixed’ something that wasn’t broken. He said, “President Clinton got it right in 1996 when he established a free market based approach to this new thing called the Internet, and the Internet economy we have is a result of his a light-touch regulatory vision.”
The FCC will vote on Pai’s proposal on December 14. Repeal of net neutrality is expected by a party line vote of 3 to 2.
Mozilla, the company that makes the Firefox browser, put out a statement immediately asking Pai to reconsider. It said that allowing ISP users to discriminate will help no one other than ISP users: it will hurt everyday users, small businesses, free speech, and innovation.
Right Wing View
There is a good deal of conservative support for the repeal of net neutrality.
Jeffrey Tucker, the director of content for the Foundation for Economic Education, has written a much-circulated essay entitled “Goodbye Net Neutrality; Hello Competition.” That essay said that the large content providers, like Amazon and Netflix, have used the idea of net neutrality to their own advantage, to force the ISPs to absorb the costs of high broadband while fending off threats to their business model. It is as if furniture companies were using the slogan “furniture neutrality” to control what shipping companies could charge from bringing chairs and sofas to homes.
But conservatives are far from unanimous. Ed Krassenstein, whom one might fairly describe as an anti-Trump conservative, tweets, “Dear Trump supporters. You can’t call liberals communists if you are going to support Trump’s removal of Net Neutrality rules. That’s a hallmark of Communism.”
Mike Cernovich expresses some ambivalence. He contends that Trump supporters don’t care, because the “Social Media” companies that are the immediate beneficiaries have taken sides, “censoring conservatives.” Cernovich seems to imply that net neutrality was a good (though dispensable) idea by saying that it was “safe until Social Media became evil.”
Left Wing View
The left has been nearly unanimous in its support for net neutrality. Leftists generally deny the implication that the 2015 rule was a new and onerous intrusion of government. It was simply (in a formulation of Timothy B. Lee wrote in Vox) a codification of the “rules of the road” rules that had already developed on the Internet, “locking in the open network design.”
The repeal of that codification is, on this view, part of a general attack on that design. One of the Democratic commissioners on the FCC, a woman who will presumably vote on the minority side if the repeal vote next month goes ahead, has written that without net neutrality “your broadband provider could carve internet access into fast and slow lanes, [and] would have the power to choose which voices online to amplify ands which to censor.”
David Goldstein, a liberal-minded resident of Seattle, Washington, tweets, “If the Trump administration destroys net neutrality, Seattle needs to protect its people and its commerce by building municipal broadband.”
Goldstein has spent a good deal of effort working up and tweeting out a plan for how Seattle could do this. He’d finance the municipal broadband with a tax, half of which would fall on commercial real estate. There would be no bond issuance, which would “make Seattle municipal broadband bulletproof.”
Billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and star of the reality television series Shark Tank, exemplifies a middle-of-the-road approach to this issue. He has said that he supports neutrality as a principle, but he doesn’t believe it should have been codified by the FCC. It is a matter that should have been defined explicitly by Congress instead.