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For the majority of people, net neutrality is a no-brainer: ISPs should treat all traffic equally. There’s no good reason to allow Comcast or Verizon, for example, to intentionally make Netflix faster than, say, YouTube just because money changed hands.
There’s bipartisan support for this concept: in the USA, 85 per cent of Republicans and 81 per cent of Democrats oppose paid “Internet fast lanes”. It’s just a given. Something obvious and uncontroversial.
But for an incredibly small-but-vocal minority – idiots, mostly – net neutrality is an evil, liberal, socialist, communist conspiracy. Typically they tend to sit on the Republican side of the fence, although it’s worth reiterating that the majority of Republican voters support net neutrality.
With the panic of Paul Revere and the mouth-foaming fanaticism of Alex Jones, these politicians and journalists have openly decried net neutrality on the public record. The problem is, what they said makes it pretty obvious that they have no idea what net neutrality even is. Here are some of the most idiotic statements said by public figures on the subject of network neutrality, and why they’re so wrong.
Jeb’s often called “the smart Bush”, and for the most part, that’s absolutely true. But a Bush is still a Bush, and given enough rope and a microphone, will inevitably say something utterly idiotic.
Earlier this year, Jebya was at a town-hall in Des Moines, Iowa when he was asked his opinion on the recent FCC ruling that, for the most part, mandated net neutrality.
“The idea of regulating access to the Internet with a 1934 law is one of the craziest ideas I’ve ever heard. … It’s not going to be good for consumers. It’s certainly not going to be good for innovation.”
Jeb was referring to the Communications Act of 1934, which effectively mandated some mediums as “common carriers”, and unable to discriminate in how they deliver a service. The problem with this piece of legislation was that it was medium-specific, mentioning radio, telephones and others.
This is a pretty ridiculous argument for Bush to make. The existence of this common carrier legislation hasn’t, for example, made the phone system unworkable. There’s no evidence, either, that suggests allowing ISPs to block and slow legitimate content results in more innovation or customer satisfaction. You’d expect the opposite to be true, right?
All in all, I’m pretty surprised Bush is so stridently against a sensible internet policy, especially when he’s been so fiercely touting his tech-friendly credentials. Just check out this cringe-inducing campaign video, where he attempts to court the high-tech digerati of Silicon Valley.
David Asman (Fox News)
You knew Fox News was going to come up, right? Here’s “Forbes on Fox” anchor David Asman on network neutrality:
“Make no mistake. The greatest tool for freedom of expression to come along in our lifetime is in danger. One cannot have genuine freedom of expression with a government monitor, an overseer, a censor prepared to immediately shut down any “threats” to the state.”
By that, you could assume he’s referring to some Gadaffiesque legislation that would allow the government to arbitrarily wrest control of the Internet. But no, he’s referring to that pesky FCC judgement again.
Incidentally, there’s nothing about a “government overseer” or shutting down the Internet in that 400 page FCC document. Rather, it prevents ISPs from throttling and blocking legitimate traffic and prohibits ISPs from charging websites for faster access. Again, all reasonable stuff that polling shows most Americans agree on.
Ted Stevens was a beloved senator from Alaska – and in speaking to Alaskans, I’ve gotten the idea that people from both sides of the political fence generally liked him. He did a lot for the state.
So it’s a pity that his legacy has been forever been tainted by one ill thought-out speech on Net Neutrality.
“Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got… an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday. I got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially. They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet.
And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.”
Overnight, “series of tubes” became a meme. For net neutrality advocates, it was the perfect vindication. It exemplified how archaic and clueless their opponents were. Steven’s misspeak spawned new words, like “Intertubes”, and t-shirts and even a couple of dance remixes.
Stevens will be remembered for many things by Alaskans, but online saying “series of tubes” might become his most enduring legacy.
Rand Paul is one of the frontrunners in the Republican race. The Kentucky senator is already very much a Silicon Valley darling, having vigorously opposed NSA surveillance. He even accepts Bitcoin donations.
As a libertarian, Paul is very much against any kind of government intervention. You expect that. But it’s still kinda strange and lamentable that he holds such anti-net neutrality views.
“These attempts to regulate the Internet are a direct attack on the freedom of information and an innovative market. The government needs to stay out of the way.”
Again, the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules have nothing to do with freedom of information. In fact, they prevent ISPs from blocking legitimate content. So, the exact opposite of what Rand Paul is yammering on about, then.
Between 2009 and 2011, Glenn Beck hosted the Glenn Beck Show on Fox News. It was perhaps the strangest two years of television, ever. Beck became known for his stalwart opposition to the Obama administration, as well as his penchant for conspiracy theories.
One episode in 2009, he came to the subject of Net Neutrality. Here’s what he had to say:
“… And everyone should have it. I don’t remember anyone in the 1930s saying everyone had a right to radio, and we gave away free radios from the government. And I don’t remember anyone in the 1950s saying everyone deserves a free television…”
Except nobody is advocating for free computers or free Internet access – that’s an entirely separate argument. Rather, we’re talking about treating all network traffic equally. It’s entirely different.
Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2014
The Fairness Doctrine was an FCC policy of the late 40’s that forced broadcasters to present issues in a way that was fair, balanced, and truthful. Net neutrality has nothing to do with that.
Incidentally, Donald Trump might be the next president of the United States, and it’s all your fault.
Slaying A Strawman
The problem with net neutrality is that it’s so inherently sensible, so obviously obvious, it’s hard to argue against it on its own basis.
I mean, it’s hard to argue against stoping Comcast or Time Warner from throttling their biggest digital rivals, like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. There’s no good argument for letting Verizon, for example, block content critical that is of Verizon.
So, as we’ve seen time and time again, in order to argue against net neutrality, you have to turn it into something it isn’t. You have to misrepresent it, and turn it into an evil, surreptitious plot to wrest control of the Internet. That’s called a strawman fallacy.
For us to have a serious debate on this subject, we need these public figures to engage with reality, and talk about net neutrality for what is, not just what the fringe elements of the political right wish it would be.
But what do you think? Pro net-neutrality or against, I want to hear your thoughts. Let me know in the comments below.