Politics is broken, and the net neutrality conflict proves it

The sceptics and cynics might be right; politics is nothing but pageantry and theatre with the idea of serving the greater good dying with the invention of teeth whitening services.

Yesterday saw the House of Representatives, of which the Democrats have a majority, pass the pompously named ‘Save the Internet’ bill by 232-190 votes. This bill proposes the re-introduction of net neutrality rules, undermining and unravelling the equally pompously named ‘Restoring Internet Freedoms’ Order introduced in June last year.

For the Democrats, this vote will be chalked up as a victory, but ultimately it is a sign politics is broken and the General Public is getting screwed by self-righteous and self-serving politicians.

“The House’s vote to re-instate net neutrality reflects the will of millions of Americans who made their voices heard that they don’t want their costs of using the Internet to go up unfairly, they do not want their freedom to be constricted, and that if they should decide to start up a business, they deserve to be on an equal playing field with their larger competitors,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The passing of this bill is nothing more than a symbolic gesture. It is a metaphoric ‘F*ck you’ to the Trump administration and the Republican party. But it achieves very little. Republican Majority Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell has already stated the bill is “dead on arrival” when it hits the floor of the Senate, and even in the unlikely scenario it does pass, the White House has already promised a Presidential Veto, what would be the second during Trump’s tenure.

The Democrats already knew this bill would fail to pass one of the legislative hurdles, or if they didn’t they should have their heads examined but maintained course. It might be considered an act of defiance, but in reality, it simply clogs up the legislative machine, ensuring no progress is made to better the lives of everyday US citizens.

If the Democrats cared about protecting and enhancing the lives of US citizens, actions would have been taken to offer more of an opportunity for the bill to pass. Not only would this be progress, it would also not deny another worthy bill time for debate. As it stands, there is not much more than a net loss for the US citizens.

Such is the partisan state of politics in the US, the idea of concessions is preposterous. The objective is no-longer to improve the lives of US citizens through innovative and considered legislative action, but to entertain and rouse.

Even the names of the bills are geared towards theatre. The ‘Save the Internet’ bill or ‘Restoring Internet Freedoms’ Order should make any reasonable individual cringe, such is the transparent nature of the propaganda, but it makes a great sound bite when preaching to the converted at political rallies.

Another bill further undermines the futility and self-serving nature of the Democrat quest.

The ‘Open Internet Preservation’ Act is a Republican piece of legislation, first proposed by Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, which appears to be a middle-ground between the two parties. Blackburn is a slightly unusual Republican politician, having supported many net neutrality rules in the past, and the ‘Open Internet Preservation’ Act represents that. However, the ‘Open Internet Preservation’ Act is struggling to gain support in the Democrat controlled House of Representatives.

The Act effectively works in two ways. Firstly, it prevents the telcos from blocking lawful content, applications and internet traffic, and also stops them from degrading the performance of any services. However, it does allow the telcos to offer premium transmission services to customers, effectively creating a virtual toll road. Those who want to improve customer experience can pay to have their traffic sped up.

This is by no-means a perfect piece of legislation, several other abuses of net neutrality concepts are still possible, though it does venture more towards the middle-ground which is the healthiest position. As it stands, the Democrats heavy-handed regulation is too far one direction, while the Republican ideal of a wild-west internet is too far the other. A middle-ground is needed.

This Act does prevent the telcos from penalising enterprise customers, effectively holding them to ransom through slower speeds, but allows them to offer premium services. Telcos are commercial organizations who have spent billions deploying faster networks and should be afforded the opportunity to monetize their investments. The current status quo, with the OTTs getting somewhat of a free-ride, creates an unbalanced equation which should not be allowed to continue. Biting the hand that feeds you is only sustainable for a short period of time.

The Democrats argue that this bill rewards the rich, Netflix for example, and prevents any start-ups from mounting a challenge. These start-ups would never be able to afford the virtual toll road, therefore would not be fighting Netflix on an even playing field, as the streaming giant can pay for better customer experience. There is some credibility to this argument, but others would suggest this is also market dynamics of a capitalist economy. Critics will argue, however many of these individuals are in comfortable positions because the US is a capitalist society.

In theory, the telcos could create a mediocre service and a premium one, with the former being sub-standard enough to force customers into paying for the virtual toll road. This could be the fear from some Democrats, and one of the areas the ‘Open Internet Preservation’ Act falls short.

Perhaps this is where more regulation is needed, as it is an omission from the ‘Open Internet Preservation’ Act. Introducing rules which limit the virtual toll roads to a 25% premium on the standard service would be a happy middle-ground, allowing the telcos to create value added services, but theoretically protecting the market from abuses.

When arguing the benefits of the ‘Save the Internet’ bill, the Democrats seem to have forgotten to mention a number of the bill’s features are already written into the ‘Open Internet Preservation’ Act. Republicans want to protect consumers from traffic throttling and blocking, but this position does not fit nicely into the Democrat rhetoric which has been built around the idea that the Republicans light-touch regulatory environment is designed to screw Joe Bloggs.

The majority of the argument is based around the definition of the telcos, but this is not a debate which interests the consumer therefore needs to be ‘sexed up’. The Democrats want a Title II designation, a common carrier or utility, where as the Republicans want Title I, a communications service and therefore shielded from more stringent regulation. This is the crux of the net neutrality argument.

When you break the argument down, have a look at what protections are already being afforded to US citizens, strip away the political propaganda and emotional baggage, this debate seems to be more about defying the Republican stance than achieving anything beneficial for the consumer.

What is wrong with the middle-ground? It would certainly be representative of the majority of attitudes across the US, but it is hardly going to attract PR inches and photoshoot opportunities for those pearly whites. Politics is broken and there’s nothing the sensible or reasonable can do about it.

Committee Democrats tell Pai to stop being so horrid

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has received a scalding letter from House Committee on Energy and Commerce effectively telling him to play nicer with poor people and Democrats.

Signed by Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (Democrat representative of New Jersey) and Communications and Technology subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (Democratic representative of Pennsylvania), the letter accuses Pai of representing the interest of corporations over consumers, ignoring questions from Democrat politicians and inadequately representing the objectives of the FCC.

“Under your leadership, the FCC has failed repeatedly to act in the public interest and placed the interest of corporations over consumers,” the letter states.

“The FCC should be working to advance the goals of public safety, consumer protection, affordable access and connectivity across the United States. To that end, it is incumbent upon the Committee’s leadership and its members to oversee the activities of the FCC.”

While under the protection of a Republican majority across US politics, Pai has been freely swinging the machete to cut public programmes and reduce the influence of the FCC. The destruction of net neutrality is of course what has grabbed the headlines, but Pai has also overseen the deregulation of broadcasters and gutted the Lifeline subsidies which so many families rely on to bridge the digital divide.

These are only a few of the accusations pointed towards Pai by the Democrat politicians, but they are not wrong. The influence and footprint of the FCC has been diluted under Pai, though only time will tell whether it has created too much of a light-touch regulatory landscape. The Democrats clearly believe Pai is impacting the US negatively, but they were never going to be nice after the November elections win.

“Not only have you have failed on numerous occasions to provide Democratic members of this Committee with responses to their inquiries, you have also repeatedly denied or delayed responding to legitimate information requests from the public about agency operations,” the letter states.

“These actions have denied the public of a full and fair understanding of how the FCC under your leadership has arrived at public policy decisions that impact Americans every day in communities across the country.”

One thing which is clear is the relationship with between Pai and the two Democrats is hardly on the friendliest of terms. That would be putting it politely, but Pallone and Doyle have painted a target on Pai.

Moving forward, Pai will no-longer be able to frolic freely through the offices of the FCC. Pallone and Doyle have promised ‘oversight time’, with the Committee reassuming its traditional role of oversight to ensure the agency is acting in the best interest of the public and consistent with its legislative authority. In short, Pallone and Doyle will be breathing down Pai’s collar at every corner.

Pai might have enjoyed freedom over the last two years, but that is all about to change.