Patterico's Pontifications

3/15/2015

Dan Gillmor Replies to My Post on Net Neutrality, But His Arguments All Fall Flat

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:25 pm

Dan Gillmor has replied to my post taking him to task for supporting Net Neutrality. I thank him for retracting his hasty, unfair, and absurd claim that I had “lied” by disagreeing with his views. However, he persists in blindly ignoring the obvious dangerous consequences of his acquiescence in placing regulatory power over the world’s prime medium of communication in the hands of American bureaucrats. Gillmor’s arguments display a disappointing naivete and trust in the central government.

This post shows why he is wrong.

Let’s review again how this all started. Here’s the tweet of mine that Gillmor objected to:

Gillmor tendentiously read this as an accusation that he is either a censor or a fool:

There are only two rational ways to read this. 1. I want the government to regulate the Web, and by extension what people post on it. 2. I want government to regulate the Web, but I’m too dense to understand what that might lead to.

Wrong. There is a third rational way to read it: that Gillmor and his fellow Net Neutrality fans are being naive about the consequences of getting government involved in regulating an increasingly critical medium for speech. Indeed, by the time he presents my tweet, Gillmor himself has already alluded to this third possible reading, earlier in his post:

While I support the commission’s decision, have argued for it, and have publicly worried about the potential unintended consequences, I don’t assume these consequences are inevitable. Frey does.

Absolutely true. So: the following (with the “I” referring to Gillmor, for consistency’s sake) is a third rational way to read my statement:

3. I [Dan Gillmor] want government to regulate the Web, but I don’t assume that this will lead to government attempts to exercise control over content.

That’s what I was saying. Gillmor isn’t dense. The problem isn’t that he hasn’t ever considered the possibility that government might use its new-found powers to control content. It’s that he has considered that possibility, and naively discounts it — because of his typical leftist faith that government Has Our Best Interests at Heart.

In my previous post, I presented the problem in this way:

Consider these two facts, which are happening (in historical terms) at the same time:

  • Newspapers are increasingly reliant on the Internet to communicate with their audience.
  • The FCC this year is assuming regulatory control over the Internet.

Seeing those two facts together should frighten all Americans. With the death of newsprint, the federal government (under the guise of Net Neutrality, which Gillmor supports) is putting regulatory control over the new printing press — the Internet — in the hands of the Federal Communications Commission.

Here’s how Gillmor responds to that:

Is the Internet the new printing press? Sure, and a lot more. Is the FCC assuming regulatory control over the Internet? It is asserting regulatory power over one (relatively) small part, in a small but crucial way. It is working to ensure that the people who create media and other services, using that printing press and other tools, are treated fairly by the cartel of corporate giants that has taken unprecedented control–over how what we create may (or even will) be seen by others who want to see it.

But here’s the problem: they are asserting authority under Title II of the Communications Act. They may be “forbearing” from exercising that full Title II authority now, but if the reclassification survives court scrutiny (and I hope it doesn’t), the powers open to the FCC are vastly greater than the more modest powers they are currently claiming. I listed some of those potential powers in my previous post. They include price controls, tariffs, monitoring, and the use of a vast grant of power to prevent whatever the FCC considers to be “unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services.”

I am cynical about government, and in my previous post I set forth chapter and verse to justify that cynicism. I gave the reader several examples from actual history, showing how high-flown phrases like “public interest” and “promoting an open and accurate discussion of political ideas” have been perverted into a justification for rank political thuggery.

How does Gillmor respond to this? Basically, with a paean to citizens’ wonderful ability to petition their government for redress of grievances. Gillmor feeds us frankly statist propaganda about how we are a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Frey hearkens back to the early days of the FCC and its subsequent control over broadcasting to frighten us with the specter of FCC Internet content regulation, citing the commission’s pernicious (we agree again!) regulation over broadcasters’ content through the decades. If there was ever a need for policing televised wardrobe malfunctions in an era of government-limited broadcast outlets–there was not, in my view–it ended when the Internet gave us, in theory, unlimited multidirectional channels of communications.

But Frey, citing a slew [of] heavy-handed government threats and actions against broadcasters, predicts the same is in store for the Internet as a result of Title II reclassification. He’s saying, This is what governments do, and it’ll happen again. (He mistakenly says the FCC has turned the ISPs into utilities, when in fact they’ve been reclassified as “common carriers”–the difference is important and highly relevant in this debate.)

Frey’s argument is a bit like saying government regulations about auto safety, such as requiring seat belts, are likely to lead to the government deciding precisely where you can drive. I suppose that’s possible, but one doesn’t inevitably lead to the other.

Governments don’t always go too far. When they’re “of the people, by the people, for the people,” we have a say in what happens.

The nation’s founders had the right idea when they established freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and more in the First Amendment. America hasn’t always lived up to these ideals, which are always under attack from people and organizations who worry about too much freedom. But the FCC decision on net neutrality very much honors the founders’ intent.

The FCC has explicitly said it would apply forbearance (a key word in the legal and regulatory arena), making clear in the rules what it won’t do–which covers the parade of horribles even supporters of Title II fear. (Here’s a Q&A that explains the concept.) And never mind that the public is getting better at understanding what the Internet is and how it works–not to mention increasingly wary of centralized power and downright allergic to government control of what we can read or write.

Let’s unpack that argument. Gillmor and I agree that the FCC has a history of pernicious regulation. We agree that there is no justification for such regulation over the Internet. So far, so good.

Let me deal with his aside that I “mistakenly say[] the FCC has turned the ISPs into utilities.” That’s not exactly what I said; I said they have classified ISPs as utilities. As a matter of legal terminology, it may be more accurate to say that they are being classified as “common carriers” — but Title II regulation, which is what the FCC has proposed, is precisely the sort of regulation that is used for public utilities. For that reason, it is common usage to refer to Title II regulation as “public utility regulation.” For example, the left-center Brookings Institution published a paper in June 2014 titled Regulating Internet Access as a Public Utility: A Boomerang on Tech If It Happens (.pdf), which contains the following passage in its opening paragraphs:

Broadly speaking, public interest and consumer groups, coupled with many in the tech community, want the same (zero) price for all types of online content, regardless of the volume of traffic on each site. The surest legal way to that result, many in this camp believe is for the FCC to accept the federal court’s implicit invitation to impose Title II “public utility style” regulation on Internet access. Understandably, the ISPs oppose that path forward, and so do others who fear that public utility regulation of Internet access – complete with rate filings and FCC approvals, among other requirements – would dampen innovation and investment in more, faster broadband.

So Gillmor is really arguing meaningless semantics here. Gillmor tries to suggest that there is a meaningful distinction between “public utility” regulation and “common carrier” regulation with a link to an Ars Technica piece titled Don’t call them “utility” rules: The FCC’s net neutrality regime, explained. But here again, Gillmor is naively trusting in government “forbearance.” The Ars Technica piece says:

One thing they were clear on: this isn’t “utility-style regulation,” because there will be no rate regulation, Internet service providers (ISPs) won’t have to file tariffs, and there’s no unbundling requirement that would force ISPs to lease network access to competitors.

Yay! Just one problem: Title II regulation empowers the FCC to do all that and more. It’s just that, hey, don’t worry, they’re not proposing to do that! …

yet.

In essence, Gillmor and Ars Technica are arguing that we need not take note of the Arabic proverb “If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.” Why? Because, silly! The only thing in the tent right now is the camel’s nose!

Let’s continue to unpack Gillmor’s response to my citation of a litany of past instances where government has engaged in thuggish regulatory overreach regarding content. Gillmor’s next argument is to compare Net Neutrality to government regulations requiring seat belts. He says my concern that Net Neutrality leading to content regulation is like seat belt regulations leading to government control over where we drive.

This, again strikes me as naive. Government has a special interest in crushing speech, because speech and ideas have always posed a unique danger to government power. We have a First Amendment precisely because the Founders had a concern about this issue. Moreover, my examples show a logical connection between handing government the power to control the distribution of speech, by granting it a roving power to put up roadblocks to distribution in the name of “the public interest,” and actual instances of such roadblocks being erected. It has happened time and time again. By contrast, Gillmor’s seat belt analogy shows no logical connection between seat belt regulations and control over where people can drive. He cites no historical examples of that general police power leading to that particular type of abuse. His example is so far off base, and so lacking in any historical precedent or logic, as to qualify as a straw man argument.

Then Gillmor gives us a ringing endorsement of our power to affect government, with the lovely idea that government is “of the people, by the people, for the people.” That’s a nice bit of sloganeering, and maybe it seemed like it meant something to the Founders. It might even sound good to fifth graders being fed this propaganda in government-run classrooms. But while a debunking of this notion root and branch is beyond the scope of this post, let me just say that if Dan Gillmor really believes that “we are the ones we have been waiting for” — or whatever other statist drivel substitutes for the notion that government is really there to serve our interests — then he and I are living in two entirely different philosophical camps here.

I’ll give this a shot in a couple of paragraphs. I have long since moved beyond the idea that I have any real say in how our government operates. It strikes me as beyond argument that: 1) my vote will never decide an election, 2) special interests will always outspend and out-talk me in a democracy, 3) the vast majority of voters are totally uninformed, and 4) logical argument cannot possibly hope to persuade voters when they are far more apt to be persuaded by rank greed and plunder. At this point, with the wholesale rejection of the Founders’ system, we fall into two classes: the rulers and the ruled.

The only solution is to lobby for greater aspects of our lives to be decided by the market rather than by government. Unlike government, free-market solutions allow me to vote meaningfully with my dollar. They encourage me to research my options more carefully. They ensure that my dollar vote will actually have an effect on my life. And if I don’t like one option, I actually have a choice. I can spend my dollar elsewhere.

Excuse the harsh language in the next paragraph. But it is necessary.

Fuck this notion that we are the government and the government is us. That is total bullshit. We are the ruled. Period. End of story.

The rest of Gillmor’s argument is a glorious sermon in favor of the wonders of government forbearance. The federal government, apparently, can be trusted to “forbear” from exercising the full range of powers granted to it under Title II.

They’re from the government, and they’re here to help.

Ultimately, Gillmor’s screed about my supposed “falsehoods” is nothing but an articulation of a basic disagreement. He trusts government. I don’t. He thinks government will “forbear” from exercising powers that it can get away with exercising. I don’t. He thinks government getting its mitts on a part of the Internet will improve our lives. I don’t.

Well, it’s an honest disagreement. At least it never occurred to me, even for a second, to call him a liar.

P.S. What is the solution? Shockingly, Gillmor and I agree on a lot of it. One key solution Gillmor proposes:

Require communities to make their rights of way accessible to all competitors, which would help create the conditions for competition, though it wouldn’t undo the unfair advantages the cartel already possesses as a result of its monopoly days.

Now that’s a solution I can get behind. Rather than piling on more government regulation, this solution actually seeks to do away with government impediments to competition arising in the free market. For more along those lines, see this Wired.com article titled Don’t Blame Big Cable. It’s Local Governments That Choke Broadband Competition.

Again, this is beyond the scope of an already long blog post, but monopolies created by government privilege are abhorrent to me. The solution is to remove the government-given perks and throw open competition to all. People need to recognize that we don’t have a free market for ISPs — so it’s no use complaining about the free market’s failure when the free market was never given a chance.

To recall Harry Browne’s analogy, the government has broken the leg of the free market, and now offers us the crutch of Net Neutrality. We should reject the crutch and destroy government’s ability to break our legs going forward.

There is no political freedom without economic freedom. That is important, so I’ll say it again, louder. There is no political freedom without economic freedom. Net Neutrality puts critical decisions about an increasingly vital medium of communication in the hands of bureaucrats. Short-sighted people are allowing their pique at a handful of ISPs persuade them to put their trust in the very entity that, in the end, always takes away our freedoms.

Don’t be a sucker. Oppose Net Neutrality.

25 Responses to “Dan Gillmor Replies to My Post on Net Neutrality, But His Arguments All Fall Flat”

  1. Ding.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  2. The only mechanism by which someone with power can abstain from all misuse or abuse of that power is to return it to those it came from. It seems we don’t teach about Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (519–430 BC) in schools anymore. Perhaps one of our many problems.

    htom (4ca1fa)

  3. simple rule the leftoids and well, everyone, need to follow:
    Would I be perfectly happy with my most hated foe to have this power?
    If the answer is no, then it is a bad idea.

    JP Kalishek (b3930f)

  4. Gillmor and his ilk need their legs broken with that crutch.

    mg (31009b)

  5. You know, I have an idea of how to get folks like this guy to see the light.

    Imagine that Ted Cruz was politicking in favor of it.

    In my experience, the entire discussion changes.

    Simon Jester (d8760a)

  6. you roll up a newspaper and you bop that camel on its stupid nose

    it’s the only way it learns

    happyfeet (a037ad)

  7. Happyfeet: Can I get an AMEN?

    Felipe: AMEN!

    Great post, Patt. You exhibit the class that I wish all would show in dealing with others.

    felipe (56556d)

  8. “I’ll give this a shot in a couple of paragraphs. I have long since moved beyond the idea that I have any real say in how our government operates. It strikes me as beyond argument that: 1) my vote will never decide an election, 2) special interests will always outspend and out-talk me in a democracy, 3) the vast majority of voters are totally uninformed, and 4) logical argument cannot possibly hope to persuade voters when they are far more apt to be persuaded by rank greed and plunder. At this point, with the wholesale rejection of the Founders’ system, we fall into two classes: the rulers and the ruled.

    The only solution is to lobby for greater aspects of our lives to be decided by the market rather than by government. Unlike government, free-market solutions allow me to vote meaningfully with my dollar. They encourage me to research my options more carefully. They ensure that my dollar vote will actually have an effect on my life. And if I don’t like one option, I actually have a choice. I can spend my dollar elsewhere.

    Excuse the harsh language in the next paragraph. But it is necessary.

    Fuck this notion that we are the government and the government is us. That is total bullshit. We are the ruled. Period. End of story.”

    – Patterico

    I agree with all of this, except that you are hosed in the world of the market as well. 1) Your dollar vote will never decide a dollar-election, 2) special interests will always outspend you in the market, 3) the vast majority of dollar-voters are totally uninformed, and 4) logical argument cannot possibly hope to persuade dollar-voters when they are far more apt to be persuaded by rank greed and plunder.

    The nice thing about market success is that it’s self-validating. We might end up with the same outcome, but at least we won’t fool ourselves into thinking that the outcome was a product of anything but aggregate self-interest. That’s a healthy realist pill to swallow.

    Leviticus (f9a067)

  9. Happy and Felipe, the camel learns a bit faster if the paper is wrapped around a baseball bat first.

    JP Kalishek (b3930f)

  10. re #5: good point.
    I wonder if Mr Gilmore has kept the insurance provider he liked.

    seeRpea (b6bbec)

  11. “There is no political freedom without economic freedom. That is important, so I’ll say it again, louder. There is no political freedom without economic freedom. Net Neutrality puts critical decisions about an increasingly vital medium of communication in the hands of bureaucrats. Short-sighted people are allowing their pique at a handful of ISPs persuade them to put their trust in the very entity that, in the end, always takes away our freedoms.

    Don’t be a sucker. Oppose Net Neutrality.”

    Truer words have never been written. Neuter the Ruling Class.

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  12. Asked what the Internet ‘general conduct rule’ means, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, ‘We don’t really know.’
    By
    L. Gordon Crovitz
    March 15, 2015 6:11 p.m. ET

    from Wall Street Journal. sound familiar?

    seeRpea (b6bbec)

  13. The seat belt analogy is interesting. Of course, seat belts were never about where one drives, they’re about how one drives.

    Beyond that, if I recall correctly the seat belt laws were originally passed to encourage seat belt use. Politicians said: “We urge you to wear them, but the police will not stop you if you choose to not use seat belts.”

    Well, that soon changed a bit. If the police stopped you for a driving infraction (illegal turn, etc.) and you weren’t wearing your seat belt, you would receive an additional citation for failure to wear it. Now, we come to the current situation where failure to wear a seat belt is an offense in and of itself and can result in you being pulled over and ticketed absent any other cause.

    But don’t worry. That kind of creeping government could never happen with Net Neutrality. So just buckle up, sucker!

    Or else.

    navyvet (c33501)

  14. People like Gillmor won’t change their minds about this issue. They already trust government to handle their retirement and health care. Why should they balk at the idea of government control of the internet?

    DRJ (e80d46)

  15. Good point, navyvet. That’s spot on.

    DRJ (e80d46)

  16. Would you buy a used car from this man? http://t.co/RHbZQnNyJG

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  17. What will the impact of Title II be on Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV)? These are going to be gamechangers and I don’t think “The Bureacracy” has the first clue.

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  18. Frey’s argument is a bit like saying government regulations about auto safety, such as requiring seat belts, are likely to lead to the government deciding precisely where you can drive. I suppose that’s possible, but one doesn’t inevitably lead to the other.

    Actually, seatbelt regulations did lead to the government deciding were we can drive. Without seatbelts we are not allowed to drive on public roads. Without vehicle registration (tags, license plates) the government can fine you for having an unregistered vehicle even if the vehicle is on private property.

    In the 1990s government seatbelt regulations for “passive” restraints lead to unsafe seatbelts that used poorly designed shoulder belts that left the manual lap belt unused. Here government regulations actually lead to more traffic fatalities.

    How about traffic light cameras that lead to more accidents not less and cities in the name of safety reduced the length of time a yellow light is on to increase revenue, causing more accidents.

    Can anyone give me an instance where centralized government has improved our lives without corruption and failure?

    When I started accessing the Internet it was at 1200 baud (about 120 characters a second). Now I can get up to 300 mps. Last year Time Warner upgraded my internet speed from 20 mps to 100 mps at no charge to me, without government intervention. That’s what competition does to the marketplace. If the government would get out of the way and instead of creating monopolies by limiting areas ISPs can cover, it’d get cheaper and even faster.

    Tanny O'Haley (c674c7)

  19. re #17: my complaints about the Fed Gov’t centralization of food safety rules pale in comparision to the benefits. i’d put airline safety regulations in that category as well.
    There are probably more that I could think of.
    the theme that no centralized gov’t is any good is too broad a statement.

    seeRpea (b6bbec)

  20. …Ultimately, Gillmor’s screed about my supposed “falsehoods” is nothing but an articulation of a basic disagreement. He trusts government. I don’t. He thinks government will “forbear” from exercising powers that it can get away with exercising. I don’t. He thinks government getting its mitts on a part of the Internet will improve our lives. I don’t…

    This reminds me of how CNN’s political ticker in 2008 rated McCain’s statement that Obama wanted to raise people’s taxes “incomplete.” CNN based that rating on the fact that Obama only publicly stated that he would raise taxes on the top 20 percent of earners. The remaining 80% would get a tax cut, Obama said.

    But of course McCain was right. There simply weren’t enough of the “rich” to pay for all the spending Obama wanted to do. Obamacare being a prime example. It’s the middle class getting hit hardest in the form of tax increases (not penalties, as Obama famously lied), IRS penalties, and wealth transfer payments. The latter in the form of higher premiums to cover other people’s medical care, which is simply a form of taxation.

    You only had to look at what Obama was hell bent on doing to know that there was no way the middle class was going to get a tax cut. You only had to look at what Obama wanted to do when Obama talked about what his plans were in other contexts (who did CNN imagine would be paying the carbon taxes Obama was going to use to bankrupt coal-fired power plants and to cause people’s electric bills to necessarily skyrocket, for example) to know Obama wasn’t even interested in lowering the middle class’ tax burden.

    But CNN put its faith in Obama’s stated but demonstrably insincere desire to deliver a result that was mathematically impossible, and denied the fact tax increases were the predictable and inevitable result of Obama’s plan because it conflicted with Obama’s BS.

    Gillmor is doing the same here, with the FCC.

    Steve57 (d68bce)

  21. “First they will monitor you, then the will discriminate against you…”

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2578815

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  22. I like the thought process regarding requiring municipalities to open up rights of way to competition rather than having a preferred franchisee locked in for decades, but… those poles can only handle so much weight and people who like their views uncluttered get all huffy too.
    Also, anyone doing an expensive build out is going to want pricing protection until they recover costs.
    In my area SCE owns the poles with electricity and rents space to whoever owns the wires below (here it is Cox and Verizon). Cox and Verizon also own poles… usually the ones without the crosspieces are cable and phone.
    Cox and Verizon own their own local nodes, minor hubs, major hubs, and likely own a piece of the backbone as well, so any new competitor would have to either rent from Cox, or run its own new infrastructure at a huge expense built out over a long time frame.

    I see serious red tape here in my area. Environmental Impact Reports, Coastal Comission Review, City Council, City Planning, Architectural Board of Review, County Planning, County Supervisors… I was in meetings where a cell carrier was trying to place equipment to improve coverage and they whipped him up one side and down the other for “polluting the view” and for trying to give children brain damage. These polluters were about the size of a 5 gallon pail and were to be mounted on existing power poles. The poor dupe from the cell company also wanted to install those fake pine and palm trees… which was roundly mocked.
    Long story short, some markets don’t deserve competition, but also it looks like most companies who want into certain markets will have to rent and will be starting at a competitive disadvantage.

    Cities would also have to organize their rights of way better and require that the poles be set up more like the interstate rather than the snarled mess you see up on the poles now. It’d be great to see them take it underground, but that would add billions.

    If the feds could streamline it, that’d be great, but my guess is that they actually make it worse.

    Maybe a huge blimp beaming wireless sitting out in the view between Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz Island http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/view-of-santa-barbara-channel-and-santa-high-res-stock-photography/515044631

    Note the oil rig in the photo: maybe some rich person on this board should run fiber to the rigs and beam wireless and cell at SB and Ventura

    steveg (794291)

  23. I doubt that I’m the only one here who installed — and used — seat belts in both their own and the family autos BEFORE they were even options available from the factory.

    htom (4ca1fa)

  24. I agree with all of this, except that you are hosed in the world of the market as well. 1) Your dollar vote will never decide a dollar-election, 2) special interests will always outspend you in the market, 3) the vast majority of dollar-voters are totally uninformed, and 4) logical argument cannot possibly hope to persuade dollar-voters when they are far more apt to be persuaded by rank greed and plunder.

    The nice thing about market success is that it’s self-validating. We might end up with the same outcome, but at least we won’t fool ourselves into thinking that the outcome was a product of anything but aggregate self-interest. That’s a healthy realist pill to swallow.

    My latest post along these same lines addresses these points, more or less, as well as others.

    I disagree, but I provide reasons for that disagreement.

    Patterico (9c670f)


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