Neutrality’s Reality

By Steve Spain

In thine federal government alone shalt thou place thy trust.” [I Barack 1:2]

Never in history has an invention effected such great change as has the internet. Since the day the public started to accept the internet as a component of modern life, it has remained loosely governed, free of the shackles of corporate or government control. In the past twenty years, you and I have migrated from dial-up internet through early generations of DSL and cable, to high-speed broadband as we know it today. On top of that, we as a society have embraced the internet in the palms of our hands, having access on nearly every mobile phone in use today.

And we did it all without the government showing us the way.

In a back alley somewhere, shrouded in secrecy, the Federal Communications Commission has been dealing a dastardly game of three-card monte. In this dangerous spin on the classic con, the White House has played shill, drumming up public panic over the contrived notion that the freedom of the internet is gravely imperiled. Over four million people wrote the FCC with their concerns, not wanting internet providers to be able to create “fast lanes”. The American public has yet to see the money card: Even after voting in the new net neutrality regulations, the Commission has yet to publish them.

Apparently, they had to pass it to see what was in it. That must be catching in D.C.

The Federal Communications Commission has gone to great lengths to engender confidence in we the…marks. First and foremost, they want us to trust the new regulations because they studied the Communications Act. Conveniently, they conceal the fact that the Communications Act dates to 1934 and its underpinnings bear no semblance to the communications networks of today. Then they want us to trust the new regulations because of the rich history of innovation in the telecommunications industry under earlier FCC regulations. Accidentally, perhaps, they fail to mention that before deregulation in 1984, the phone company owned the one phone in your house, you could plug nothing else into your phone lines, and you paid to lease the phone; and they fail to mention that before deregulation in 1984, there existed no such services as caller ID, call blocking, or voicemail.

Perhaps touchtone dialing captivated the Commissioners in the mid-1960’s, and the Chairman’s parents proudly gave him the telephonic middle name, “Octotherp”.

In reality, telephone network technology changed at a comparative snail’s pace for decades under regulation, and what innovations did come from the tightly-regulated industry were either exclusive to the cloisters of the phone company buildings and the exclusive knowledge of Lily Tomlin; or were only available to a handful of customers in the largest metropolitan areas or too cost-prohibitive for any customers except large businesses.

But the millennials who voiced opinions about neutrality are too young to know any of that.

The Commission is on alert, watching for Congress or the Courts to shut down this back-alley con game. In what the Commission has publicized about the decision, the Commission repeatedly chides the Courts for standing in the way of “neutrality”.

Still, the Commission, slinging three cards around before our eyes, and Congress and the Courts, ready to shut down the game, are all branches of the same federal government.

The lines between cop and robber have blurred and it is nearly impossible to tell who to trust. As the administration and the Commission both sound the alarm that the internet as we know it is days from ruin, convincingly proclaim “Net Neutrality” as the only solution, and yet keep the actual regulation from public scrutiny, we can only speculate on what will be found within its many pages.

Fortunately for us, everyone has a tell.

Over the coming days, the Arizona Daily Independent will explore the press release the FCC has delivered regarding its decision, and contrast that with actual, documented telecom history. We will take what the Commission has told the public and fill in the gaps, correct the errors, and suss out the hidden meanings.

Don’t bet on where the queen lies until you’ve read the rest of what we have to tell you.

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