We keep getting it wrong when it comes to net neutrality. But the FCC’s recent vote will force a market test that just might prove what’s truly right.
If Bitcoin is the number one topic in tech and the economy this week, then net neutrality is running a very close second. The FCC’s vote this week to repeal Obama-era neutrality regulations brought a wave of protest and punditry through the web, and close readers will know that my, and NewCo Shift’s point of view on the debate aligns more with Walt Mossberg, and less with the Chairman. But I believe in rational discourse and robust debate, and to that end, I want to take a few moments to lay out the Republican point of view.
Here’s Pai’s statement outlining his defense of the repeal. In short, Pai argues that we need to move back to the “light touch” approach that the government adopted for most of the Internet’s short life. Absent government oversight, he argues, the Web developed into a fantastic organism that has benefitted all. Competition drove innovation, and that framework ought to be preserved. The doomsayers on the left will eventually be proven wrong — the market will win. Here’s a similar argument, via a NYT OpEd.
What strikes me as interesting about all this is now that net neutrality is no longer government policy, we’re going to get a true test of our much-vaunted free market. Will competition truly blossom? Will, for example, new ISPs spring up that offer “net neutrality as a service” — in opposition to the Comcasts and Verizons of the world, who likely will offer tiered bundles of services favoring their business partners? I have to admit, I find such a scenario unlikely, but to me, the silver lining is that we get to find out. And in the end, perhaps that is the only way that we can truly know whether preserving neutrality is a public good worthy of enshrinement in federal law.
We’re all tired of this endless battle. But if you make your living in any way through the Internet, you have to strap it on once more.
I’m tired. Worn down. In need of a Thanksgiving break. For more than a year the news has been relentless, and relentlessly bad. Are you worn down as well? Are you numb? Inured?
I bet you are.
But we must rouse ourselves, all over again, to have yet another fight we thought we already won. For this Thanksgiving, as most of us take a long-deserved rest to count our diminishing blessings, the FCC plans to gut net neutrality. And we simply can’t take this one lying down.
Plus gutting the DOE, and it’s time to take a stand
Every single company that dominates our digital life these days — oh hell, let’s just call it what it really is, shall we? Every company that dominates most of ourlife these days — Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple — these companies all were born as upstarts — challengers who fought against the status quo, founder-driven scrappers who discovered new paths, paths which led to their ultimate ascendance.
But now they’re dominant, they’re incumbents. And that means they care as much — perhaps more — about maintaining their power as they do about maintaining the level playing field which allowed them all to prosper in the first place.
By Miguel Gamiño, Chief Technology Officer for New York City
ICYMI — We were troubled by the news from FCC Chairman Pai this week. So much so that NYC Mayor’s Office made our position clear right here on Medium. An act of leadership that makes me proud to be part of this team! My tweet sums it up pretty well.
An overview of today’s current (and ageless) debate
Every 20 years or so, the tech industry suffers a spasm of antitrust fever driven by angry accusations and, eventually, intervention by the Justice Department. In the late ’70s and early ’80s it was all about IBM’s mainframe monopoly. In the late ’90s, Microsoft was the evil monopolist, with its PC operating-system dominance. The latest round features Google. Or, wait, maybe it’s Facebook. Or Apple. Amazon, anyone?
One problem with today’s charges of monopolistic behavior is that there are so many monopolists this time around. And they’re all competing with one another! Google battles Apple in mobile operating systems. Amazon vies with Netflix in streaming/TV content. In music, it’s Spotify vs. Apple. In cloud services, it’s Amazon vs. Microsoft vs. Google.
While the world was transfixed by the legislative train wreck of the Obamacare repeal effort in the House, the Senate was busy with its own mischief. On Thursday, it passed a bill that would remove Obama-era privacy restrictions from internet service providers (Buzzfeed). Republicans supported the bill, arguing that they were barring onerous rules that impede innovation, while Democrats maintained that the rules protect consumers. The bill still needs House approval and a presidential signature, but those are expected to come soon. “The Senate Prepares to Send Internet Privacy Down a Black Hole,” Wired headlined its story.
The FCC rules that are being trashed drew a distinction between ISPs like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T, and online firms like Google and Facebook that build services on top of the internet access you pay those other companies for. The distinction may feel abstract and increasingly outdated in an era when your ISP might also be peddling its own content. Why should one kind of media company be more heavily regulated than another?
It should come as a surprise to no one that the arrival of a new conservative Republican administration means a reordering of telecommunications policy — away from regulation, and towards a freer hand for the semi-monopolists who control our network access. Now that this change is taking concrete form, it’s worth taking a closer look at.
Ajit Pai, who is already a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (and before that was a lawyer for Verizon), will be the new FCC chairman (The Washington Post). Critics say Pai was a staunch opponent of his predecessor Tom Wheeler’s moves to make network neutrality the law, and we should expect the FCC to begin unravelling that initiative — making it easier for Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and other network providers to create different tiers of internet access and to bundle content channels that they control with the basic network services they provide (Motherboard). Also in the offing: a loosening of privacy rules and less support for municipal broadband initiatives.
Is Facebook’s free internet a Trojan horse? Facebook’s free internet plan, Free Basics, didn’t work out well when it debuted in India, but now Facebook has given the project an overhaul and has its eyes on a new market: the U.S. (The Washington Post). Free Basics is a system that lets disadvantaged users get wireless access to certain services and content free — they’re not charged against the monthly data limit. The argument for this “zero rating” concept is: let’s do a better job of bringing the benefits of internet connectivity to people who can’t afford it. The argument against it is, let’s not create a two-tier internet where poorer users get subsidized access but only to services like Facebook that underwrite it. (Last year, Susan Crawford persuasively made the against case.) The devil will be in the details, and it looks like federal regulators are moving with care. But cross your fingers that someone is looking out for the long-term interests of users here, and not just those of the BigCos.
For women in business, it’s the same old same old. U.S. businesses are still failing to make any kind of headway towards gender equality, according to a new study from LeanIn.org and McKinsey. The review of 130 companies finds that women are “underrepresented at every level of the corporate pipeline,” get promoted less than men, and face extra resistance when they ask for raises. It’s even tougher for women of color. While none of this comes as a surprise, the sheer Groundhog Day-like familiarity of such results is getting painful. More than 70 percent of companies have made commitments to diversity, yet the needle has remained stuck. Less talk, more action.