Archive for the ‘net neutrality’ Tag

Tyranny By Another Other Name   Leave a comment

I like free speech and I like privacy. In fact, I think free speech depends on privacy.

 

Too bad the US government absolutely sucks at protecting our privacy.  Glenn Greenwald’s new book No Place To Hide reveals that the U.S. government tampers with Internet routers during the manufacturing process to aid its spying programs.

 

Do you really trust the government with control over the Internet? We know from the Fairness Doctrine that the government didn’t trust the media outlets to police themselves, so we can be sure that the government will need to technically verify whether the telecoms are treating data as they should, which will mean installing its own hardware and software at critical points to monitor Internet traffic.

 

We already know that , once installed, our government (and any other government able to hack in) will not use this access for benign purposes. They didn’t in the past. Why would they change their behavior now?

 

Oh, but you like Barack Obama and the current Chair of the FCC and you’re not worried that they will invade YOUR privacy or infringe upon YOUR freedom of speech. What happens if Jeb Bush is elected to the White House? What if Republicans remain in control of the House and Senate? That changes the dynamic a bit, doesn’t it?

 

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. – James Madison, The Federalist No. 51

 

I used to believe the US government was a benevolent and wise parent looking out for the best interests of society. When Jimmy Carter violated Alaska’s Statehood Compact and the provisions of ANILCA, I got real-world woke up. I see the US government as a dangerous tyrant, influenced by large corporations, seeking to control everyone and everything.

 

At the crux of the debate between proponents and opponents of Net Neutrality are that some of us have become aware that Skynet exists and others of you still want to live in dreamland.You want to believe that the US government is all-knowing with good intentions that will never change without your permission and all will be well. I don’t believe that because I look to history and see Woodrow Wilson outlawing political dissent and FDR locking up US citizens of Japanese ancestry. The US government topples elected democracies, fights unjust wars and interferes in world affairs. It executes American citizens in violation of 5th Amendment rights.

 

I don’t trust the government. It doesn’t matter which party is “in” at the moment because I’m convinced they’re two sides of the same coin called tyranny.

 

Regulations can start out with the best of intentions, but when enough red tape accumulates, we drown in it regardless. That leads to less freedom for us individually and for society as a whole.

Crony Capitalism & the Internet   Leave a comment

Were you happy with your doctor and did you get to keep him? Were you happy with your insurance policy and do you still have it? Have your premiums gone down … or up?

Yeah … the ACA is a cautionary tale of what happens when large corporations and government get into bed with one another. The ACA was written by large medical corporations behind closed doors in collusion with our elected representatives and, with a few notable exceptions, it has largely been a disaster.

So now we have Net Neutrality. Do we think it wasn’t written in a way that will make it harder for new companies to offer Internet service?

If I wasn’t a broke novelist taking informed pot shots from the cheap seats, I’d bet money that the telecoms now have an effective tool against smaller, more efficient competitors and that consumers will have few options for Internet service.

Oh, but you believe the politicians who say that if they hadn’t stepped in things would be much worse?

In a truly free market, telecoms like Comcast and Time Warner would have to adjust their practices or go out of business. They’d be replaced by options that would give us better service at lower prices. Some of the new options would depend on taking advantage of the freedom to charge more for certain types of Internet … which is exactly what Net Neutrality seeks to eliminate.

Barriers to competition tend to work in the favor of large corporations which can more easily afford to forego profits in the short term in order to profit in the long term. This sort of predatory capitalism blocks the smaller companies out of the market and leaves the field wide open for the larger companies that helped to write the regulations in the first place.

 

But hey, don’t take my word for it. Go research it for yourself.

Net Neutrality   2 comments

Looking through Facebook posts and watching the news, you might get the idea that everyone is for “Net Neutrality”.

I’m not. It just became the regulatory law of the land, but I oppose it.

I’m not a paid shill for the cable industry, I don’t even have cable television. I have zero experience with Comcast, but I occasionally grumble about GCI, an Alaska ISP. I’m skeptical of large corporations and dislike that true capitalists end up sounding like we’re supporting them, because I’m not. I’m supporting me and people like me and I’m learning from the past so I don’t repeat it.

Remember what I wrote about the Fairness Doctrine. Consider these to be companion pieces.

I have no problem with net neutrality as a principle. Unrestricted access to the Internet is a net good, but I don’t think this is a wise way to go about it – in fact, I don’t think it’s going to work at all.

Competition is a good thing. Proponents of Net Neutrality say the telecoms have too much power … and I agree. Monopolies are bad, always.

So why do we think giving a monopoly to the government is somehow going to work out well?

Think about it a moment.

The United States government built a health care website using a budget equal to Facebook’s first six years of operating costs and this website doesn’t work even after several attempts to fix it.

The federal government spends 320 times what private industry spends launching a rocket into space.

Has the involvement of the federal government improved public schools? Well, test results compared to other countries suggest not.

How about immigration?

Housing?

Bridges and highways?

The military?

The post office?

All these examples are heavily regulated or controlled by the government and all are areas mired in red tape and struggling to survive the realities of the 21st century.

On the other hand, telephone services were deregulated a few decades ago. The industry almost immediately responded with cell phones the size of bread boxes, but look where we are today?

The US government has repeatedly shown that it is ineffective at managing … well, everything. Which is as it was designed. Our Founders didn’t trust government, so they created one that is slow, inefficient and mired in gridlock. That way government is slow enough for people to protect their individual liberty from its usurpations. Well, we could if we bothered to pay attention, anyway.

It’s actually a plus that our government is slow, because it gives us time to rein it in before it eats our liberty, but the downside is that slow inefficient government cannot be relied upon to provide us with the high quality products and services we want in a timely manner.

Everything that makes the telecoms bad has to do with the federal government and the regulatory structure that links the telecoms to government. What? You didn’t know that?

Government regulations are written by large corporate interests in collussion with officials in government. The image of government being full of people on a mission to protect the little guy from predatory corporate behemoths is a Mad Man illusion fostered by politicians and corporate interests. Most government regulations are the product of crony capitalism designed to prevent small entrepreneurs from becoming real threats to large corporations.

Go on! Go research it, find out I’m right and come back for more discussion.

Remembering the Fairness Doctrine   3 comments

This can be considered an installment of my media influence series. It isn’t over. I just got busy and distracted.

 

The American people just seem unable to learn the folly of allowing the administrative state to control anything in our lives.

 

When I was in college (early 1980s) there was a fierce debate underway about the unfairness of the Fairness Doctrine.

 

For those who are unfamiliar with the Fairness Doctrine, it was based on a 1949 Federal Communications Commission regulaion that requried broadcasters to “afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of pulbic importantce.” It was overturned by the FCC in 1987 because, contrary to its purpose, it failed to encourage discussion of more controversial issues. It also violated the First Amendment, but who cares about that old piece of paper anyway, right?

 

The Fairness Doctrine was predicated on the idea that the airwaves were scarce and to assure that broadcasters did not stomp on one another’s signal, the government had to regulate access. From that came the idea that it could also regulate content. The FCC claimed that the only way to assure fair and balanced news and opinion was to mandate it.

 

In practice, controversial speech was silenced as the threat of random investigations and warnings discouraged broadcasters from airing what FCC bureaucrats might refer to as “unbalanced views.” Rather than encouraging debate, it stifled it. But it also skewed the news.

 

Those of us old enough to remember the late-1960s remember the “Silent Majority” – a vast number of ordinary Americans who never seemed to make waves. While protests swept college campuses and sucked up all the media attention, they were largely silent. But were they, really? We now know that as the media focused glowing attention on the affects of progressivism in the America a large groundswell of conservatives were forming that would eventually bring Ronald Reagan to the presidency, followed a few years later by the Contract with America. If you go back and look at broadcasts from that era, you don’t see any evidence of that groundswell. You have to go to print media to find it. There were a handful of local radio stations that allowed citizens to call in and espress opinions, but if the discussion skewed too far to the conservative end of the wading pool, the radio station management was likely to receive a call from the FCC telling them to balance their content.

 

I’m not saying there was a vast progressive conspiracy to keep conservative ideology off the airwaves. I’m saying that government is more likely to be staffed by progressives. It makes sense. If you feel that government should be small and limited, you’re less likely to seek employment with government. If you are a progressive, you are more likely to view progressive ideas as being more truthful and valid than conservative ideas. You are also going to get into a lather when the local radio station allows “unbalanced” views and you can do something about it. So the FCC became a watchdog and bulwark against conservative ideology creeping onto the airwaves.

 

In 1984, the Supreme Court concluded that the scarcity rationale underlying the doctrine was flawed and that the doctrine “inescapably dampens the vigor and limits the variety of public debate”. When the Fairness Doctrine was set aside in 1986, conservative talk radio exploded onto the scene. It didn’t need to build an audience because that previously Silenced Majority were thrilled to finally hear their own beliefs in public.

 

Of course, progressives don’t like that and there have been occasional attempts to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, especially to enshrine it in Congression law. Reagan vetoed one attempt in 1987 and later attempts have failed to pass Congress. As an independent regulatory agency (which ought to scare the hell out of all intelligent Americans), the FCC has the power to reimpose the doctrine without Congressional or Executive action.

 

Supporters of reviving the un-Fairness Doctrine base their argument on the same three faulty premises that the FCC used originally.

 

Scarcity

The broadcast spectrum is limited, supporters say, so they should be policed by federal bureaucrats to ensure that all viewpoints are heard. And yet there are thousands of radio and television stations nationwide as well as cable and satellite channgels and the Internet (more on that in a later post). There is little prospect for a information monopoly simply because of the incredible diversity of media.

 

Fairness

Federal policing is needed to guarantee fair access to the airwaves for a diversity of viewpoints. This is assuming that FCC bureaucrats have the ability to discern what is “fair”. The way the Fairness Doctrine was administered, each broadcaster had to offer air time to anyone with a controversial viewpoint. FCC regulators would arbitrarily determine what “fair access” was and who was entitled to it through selective enforcement. PBS in Fairbanks Alaska was a progressive wonderland with no FCC warnings in its jacket. KFAR in the same market would receive regular FCC warnings for listerners calling in and expressing their personal opinion. Gotta balance that! Both the Kennedy and Nixon administrations used the Fairness Doctrine to keep unfavorable reporting off the airs. What is “fair”? It all depends on your viewpoint, I guess.

 

Guaranteed Vigorous Debate

Supporters of the Fairness Doctrine then and now will assert that requiring broadcasters, under threat of arbitrary legal penalty, to “fairly” represent both sides of a given issue will result in more views being aired and will not affect the editorial content of a station. The reality was quite different. Under the Fairnmess Doctrine, with the threat of potential FCC retaliation for perceived lack of compliance, most broadcasters were reluctant to air their own opinions because it required them to also air alternative perpectives thatt their audiences did not want to hear. Free (regulated) speech became less free. It did not result in easier access to conversial views, but instead led to self-censorship. With the wide diversity of views available today, people seeking alternative viewpoints can simply change the channel or click on a different link.

 

Ah, but can they?

 

I see Net Neutrality as this era’s version of the Fairness Doctrine and I predict it will result in the exact same problems and with far more dire consequences.

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