Questions For Advocates Of Net Neutrality Regulation

Flawed premises notwithstanding, the Federal Communications Commission’s self interested campaign to inflict net neutrality rules on the private communications infrastructure continues with a new rulemaking proceeding.

It’s a profound, deep-seated problem that FCC  cannot explain why proprietary control over networks is fundamentally positive thing and the source of genuine “neutrality” (that of business model neutrality).

Access to content and cloud is what’s for sale; Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal likened the frenzy to regulate the Internet like a utility to a drive to regulate farmers on the assumption that they might stop selling peas unless we impose strict regulation.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will appear this week at an oversight hearing in the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

Committee staff, wanting to engage social media, sent out a public “What Would You #AskWheeler” appeal.

I like that, but often policymakers, and most assuredly the media, have internalized “ progressive” premises and cannot ask questions that do not already assume regulation is desirable.

For instance, could you imagine a reporter from a major paper or network asking President Obama, “What are you doing to roll back the influence of Washington in health care policy?”

The liberal-progressive perspective so pervasive it’s, as I’ve heard it put, like asking a fish about water. “Water? What’s water?

The Internet is not an exception. Still, there are some who seem to get it. Texas Senator Ted Cruz is drafting legislation to bar FCC interference. His predecessor Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison similarly meant to cut the agency’s water off by “prohibit[ing] the FCC from using any appropriated funds to adopt, implement or otherwise litigate any network neutrality based rules, protocols or standards.” And Rep. Marsha Blackburn in the House has long sought FCC restraints.

Open networks can and should co-exist with those blocked and managed and fiddled with in every way imaginable. If FCC cannot defend that scenario, and is inherently unable to articulate why those advocating compulsory “dumb pipes” are the genuine enemies of openness, it unsuited for any role in communications policy.

One doesn’t create a universal regulatory superstructure to deal with a potential rifle shot problem that’s itself rooted in FCC’s decades old monopoly regulatory legacy.

It is not possible to not know this. Neutrality, like most regulation, is cronyism; non-producers want to be boss, lawyers want to bill hours.

Net neutrality is dedicated to ensuring that infrastructure owners and content owners remain perpetually and artificially in conflict. Net neutrality is an end in itself unrelated to consumer protection.

When businesses misbehave, competitors react. they short the perpetrator’s stock; they buy that of its rivals; they force it via competition and public relations and advertising to change.

The challenge for FCC, which it plainly rejects, is to legitimize property rights, special agreements and novel contracts, and articulate how these accelerate the “background hum” of even greater openness.

FCC is not even in that universe, preferring to pick favorites among content and infrastructure providers that increasingly overlap anyway.

So #AskWheeler and everyone else, the following:

  • Explain why compulsory net neutrality is the enemy of openness and what FCC is doing to combat it.
  • In what sense does FCC recognize the relevant competitive challenge is not merely the “neutral” transfer of information across today’s existing networks, but the creation of networks as such?
  • How does FCC intend to clarify to a confused policy environment that “neutrality” or “openness” represent one of many variable features of many types of networks that potentially can co-exist, than the defining characteristic?
  • How is FCC leading efforts to discredit infrastructure central planning and avoid fostering cronyism?
  • How is FCC net neutrality regulation consistent with reducing the near-term likelihood of lawsuits and unproductive lobbying?
  • What is FCC doing to reject the overly negative connotation of “discrimination,” and to articulate “discrimination’s” role in expanding infrastructure and bandwidth creation, consumer welfare, child safety, homeland security, network & information security, privacy,  reducing the vulnerability of intellectual property to piracy, and other worthy features of content and service ?
  • Describe the proliferation of overlapping networks at the dawn of the communications age, and how, if America could achieve that with 1907′s GDP level, it undermines the case for compulsory net neutrality.
  • Describe FCC’s recent actions to promote alternatives to neutrality regulation such as promoting cross-industry partnerships by dismantling the regulatory silos that artificially separate infrastructure like electricity, water, rail, sewer, telecommunications and transportation.
  • Describe results of FCC’s detailed investigations into alternatives to neutrality, such as reducing franchise, zoning, and environmental barriers.
  • Describe how FCC pledges to rule out price and entry regulations in the wake of any neutrality mandates.
  • Describe how net neutrality will lessen future FCC authority and reduce its budget.
  • Describe FCC’s research into how innovation in user ownership of infrastructure (real estate developers, content companies, end users) offsets market power and relaxes FCC’s calls for neutrality?
  • What is the agency doing to discourage antitrust interference in communications ventures (like the delayed XM- Sirius and Comcast CMCSA -0.5% NBC mergers, and the rejected AT&T T-Mobile merger), since these foster the grand-scale infrastructure competition and responses that would otherwise achieve the alleged ends of neutrality

Of course, the premises are the opposite of the central planning mindset. FCC performs none of these crucial functions, nor even recognizes them as issues. For more, see my series Before Net Neutrality Eats the World.