This Wednesday, internet netroots and online behemoths will host an “Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality” expected to slow down websites and online portals, as well as post language encouraging Americans to “fight to save the free and open Internet.”
There’s just one problem with this seemingly innocent call to action: it’s disingenuous, misleading, and being driven by partisan and at times hostile organizations that prioritize misleading propaganda and Obama-era overregulation over bipartisanship, transparency and civility.
The recently revived net neutrality debate has caused progressive activists to lose their politically correct masks. And when I say they lost it, I mean really lost it. There are anonymous online activists submitting comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) calling Charmian Ajit Pai insults and names that range from funny to infuriating and from ill-informed to just pure hate. They have attacked the chairman’s Indian background, his marriage, even his two children. But, it hasn’t only been words, activists have even stalked his family outside their house for days on end.
“Oh, he’s in public service. He signed up for this,” you might say. No. That doesn’t justify this treatment. This man merely has a free market-rooted ideology that differs from “government is the only one who can save you” mentality of hard core net neutrality supporters. That means that this kind of behavior is abusive and potentially dangerous as well.
Without the messaging machine of the internet activists ginning up these radicals and threatening comments, the topic of net neutrality is one that makes most peoples’ eyes glaze over, and one that would be left to internet engineers and technologists to resolve. But unfortunately, a cottage industry around the issue of net neutrality developed over time, one that helps radical netroots groups raise a lot of money and make a lot of fake noise by misleading the public about what the issue is all about.
The net neutrality debate was never about “maintaining a safe, free, and open internet” as President Obama messaged it to be. It was about ensuring the one thing Democrats always want – control of the internet and to help their crony friends.
First, the principles of net neutrality itself is supported by FCC Chairman Pai, Commissioner O’Rielly, Republicans in Congress, and broadband providers. They all support a free and open internet. The real issue at play is the Obama-Wheeler government takeover of the internet known as Title II which re-classified broadband service providers in 2015 as “common carriers” from the 1930’s.
Title II regulation of the internet is a vintage example of lipstick-on-a-pig politics. The net neutrality debate was never about “maintaining a safe, free, and open internet” as President Obama messaged it to be. It was about ensuring the one thing Democrats always want – control of the internet and to help their crony friends. Under these regulations, government bureaucrats can decide what websites they can prioritize or punish and what broadband infrastructure investments are worth.
And contrary to what activists continue to yell and howl, this type of framework doesn’t bode well for consumers. According to a report by the Competitive Enterprise Institute:
“[These] regulations harm consumers because they prevent ISPs from experimenting with the network configurations and pricing models that serve consumers best. Instead of regulating how broadband service is provided, Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and governments at all levels should promote competition by making more spectrum available for commercial use and by reducing barriers to deploying wireline infrastructure.”
The reality in what should really just be called “The Title II Debate” is that businesses using the networks which ISPs operate want to make sure their information pipeline into homes is as cheap as possible. Instead of building their own networks, with the exception of Google on this point, cronyism is their tactic. And to reach that end they are demagoguing ISPs.
But that story wouldn’t help the activists raise money online, generate fake FCC filings, or advance their big government agenda. Their playbook has been fairly easy to forecast since it’s a recycled act, but that doesn’t stop them from spreading their false talking points and hate to feed off of a lack of knowledge in this technical and wonky issue.
This debate, at its roots, is about a difference of opinion regarding how best to regulate the internet—one of the most important modern inventions. There is the conservative, let the economic chips fall where they may attitude, and then there’s the liberal, government control is key attitude. But regardless of where you stand on that fundamental question, political advocacy should never turn to hate or race, which this debate undoubtedly has. It is, indeed, a dangerous path we’re on.
Net neutrality activists have already lost the moral high ground. Not even Wednesday’s hostile Internet takeover will make us forget that. And next they will lose on Title II as well.
Charles Sauer is founder and president of The Market Institute.