Not unlike the way that people present themselves as avatars in cyberspace, policymakers in Washington present themselves behind a veneer that is usually as predictable as it is tiresome. But not always! Once or twice a decade some public official will do something that surprises, and in doing so leaves all the other players gobsmacked and reeling.
This is precisely what has happened at the FCC in recent days as the newly installed chairman, Tom Wheeler, acting in the wake of a court order, has proposed a reform of that agency’s so-called net neutrality regulations. In a nutshell, the Wheeler proposal would allow ISPs to provide, for a fee, faster lanes to the consumer for content providers.
If you are one of those people who don’t find the idea of paying more for better things to be a deeply radical idea, your problem is that you’re unschooled in the ways of political posturing, rhetoric, and the lay of the land. You don’t understand that, to Democrats especially, the “free and open Internet” cannot allow upgrades of the sort that would make any content provider (and that provider’s customers) happier than any other provider or its customers. Distributive justice, you know.
In the grip of this construct, the Internet must remain a static and unchanging highway, never in need of pothole filling or additional traffic lanes.
Which is not to say that Republicans, too, don’t like Wheeler’s proposal. Indeed, the confounding fact is that both of the Republicans on the Commission voted against the proposal while all three of the Democrats voted for it! And in truth the Republicans are correctly concerned about the precedential effect of net neutrality on the formerly unregulated Internet. In his statement opposing the measure, Republican Commissioner O’Rielly made this argument cogently, just as former commissioner McDowell had before him.
Still, there is the gnawing concern that, given the way the pieces are deployed on the board right now, it might have been better in the long run if the Republicans had given Wheeler some support for breaking from the Democratic ranks.
Whatever the future may hold, one thing is clear: The final resolution of this matter is nowhere in sight.
The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.