Some striking parallels appear in the fights over “net neutrality” and “climate change.” Firstly, both issues are mostly political. Politicians like those above alarmed over the internet are the same ones alarmed about the climate. (Pictured are Democrat senators Franken, Sanders, Booker and Markey.)
Then there is the comparison that both concerns involve a fear of the future. Impressionable youngsters and others have been told they have a right to a “stable climate” and to “net neutrality.” Advocates ignore how benign and conveniently warming has been our climate since 1850, but assure us that extreme heat and dire consequences surely lie ahead. The same politicians ignore the fact the internet worked amazing well prior to the Obama 2015 Internet Order, and brought great innovation and affordable services without heavy-handed regulations.
The proposed policies are also comparable. Evil corporations can not be trusted to deal fairly with their customers and must be controlled by government bureaucracy. Laws must be written to dictate to network operators what they can offer and what prices they can demand. Fossil fuel producers must be hounded, sued, taxed, and constrained by any means possible.
Also underneath the simplistic political positions, there are technical complexities and realities overlooked in the rush to enact “solutions.” I have read and posted a lot on global warming/climate change and know how unfounded are the alarmist claims. So I am inclined to be skeptical when the same people harp about the internet.
In the last few days, some things appear true to me. Prior to 2015 the FCC classified the internet as a Title I service and all the growth and innovation happened under that “light-touch” regulation. The 2015 FCC Internet Order under the Obama administration reclassified the Internet as Title II, mandating “heavy-handed” regulation, including price controls and even the potential for taxes to pay for regulatory costs. This move was justified to protect consumers against discrimination by providers. That order is now being repealed by the present Trump-appointed FCC head.
Skeptics pointed at the time that Title II worked extremely well to protect telephone monopolies and prevent innovation for decades. Notice that AT&T is in full support of restoring Title II regulation. Smart phones and Voice Over Internet escaped Title II regulation, and who knows what future inventions will come without government interference.
We can also see virtue signaling on display in both campaigns. The Senate action this week is unlikely to succeed, but the point was always to rally the faithful for the mid-term elections. Underneath the feel-good notion of net neutrality is the impulse to control and limit choices by putting bureaucrats in charge.
Everyone wants the same thing: Free competition so that the best ideas and services can rise and prosper, privacy so that personal information can not be exploited against one’s interests, and freedom to choose and to pay accordingly. But how to get there? Going back to the 2010 FCC Internet Order is a good start, which is the result of the recent FCC decision.
In both climate and internet issues, there are important matters to address by means of facts and analysis rather than knee-jerk politics. Rolling out widely accessible broadband networks is expensive and won’t happen if builders and operators are unprofitable. And based on past experience, it will also not work as a government project. As for climate, officials should be more humble. No one knows what future weather will be, and most likely there will be both periods colder and warmer than the present. The proper role of government is not to attempt control of the weather, but to prepare for the contingencies with robust infrastructure and reliable, affordable energy.
Mediashift: Your Guide to Net Neutrality (2018 Edition)
Boston Globe: The real reason the Net neutrality fight goes on
American Consumer Institute: Did the FCC Lie about Net Neutrality? (2015)
Forbes: Am I The Only Techie Against Net Neutrality? (2014)
Journal on Telecom and High Tech Law: Unintended Consequences of Net Neutrality Regulation (2007)