The efforts of the pro-net neutrality crowd in fighting the proposed dismantling of the internet are admirable. Too bad they are likely to be in vain. A recent arstechnica article highlights the most recent attempt by the movement, spearheaded this time by freelance writer Jason Prechtel. Prechtel filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request a few months ago. Ajit Pai’s FCC has been “slow-walking” this request, just as it has hundreds of others.
Prechtel's request, like most of those relating to the net neutrality debate, concerns the many comments against the trashing of net neutrality, along with the FCC’s presentation of dubious comments supporting the proposed rollback of rules. This opposition is praiseworthy. The problem that I have with all the angst, however, is that the pro-net neutrality comments (of which there have been millions) are all for naught. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai simply doesn’t care.
The wrecking of net neutrality is already a done deal. Pai and his cronies don't give a hoot whether there are a million critical comments or a “bazillion.” This has never been a reasonable, rational debate. It is, and always has been, a political decision made strictly along party lines, based on who occupies the White House. So it was under Obama’s Tom Wheeler, and so it is under Trump’s Pai.
As Obama supporters are finding out, anything that comes into being without Congress’ legislative authority (that is, by just the pen of the president and a few phone calls), can easily be reversed. This is certainly the case with protecting net neutrality. It’s not about what’s best for the citizenry or the direction that internet innovation will take. It’s about power politics, pure and simple. This is as true for net neutrality and the internet as it is for privacy versus national security and the mass surveillance mess. All the fuss about extending deadlines so all voices can be heard is just so much nonsense.
The proponents of repeal, such as AT&T and its ilk, would have you believe that most "legitimate" net neutrality comments favor repeal. Opponents of repeal argue that a study funded by Internet Service Providers found that 98.5% of individually written net neutrality comments support the US' current net neutrality rules. In truth, both camps have probably fudged the numbers to bolster their respective cases. This is just as you would expect in a partisan political fight. It’s all a show.
Rest assured, if the party designation of the Oval office occupant changes in 2020, 2024 or whenever, so will the control of the FCC, and so will the net neutrality rules. This is likely to happen even if the repeal leads to success for all involved and the sky doesn't fall, as the pro-net neutrality crowd predicts. Net neutrality will come under stress again because it can, since it most likely won't have been codified by law - only by decree.
That’s what happened back in 2015 under Obama. There wasn’t any danger to the structure then. Things were working. Could they work better? Well, that’s always the case, isn’t it? Companies of all sizes and stripes were making money and more people than ever were benefitting from things as they were. Would the new rules make things better for folks? That’s debatable. Will repeal of the rules now be crippling? Doubtful. Either way, each side will spin the outcome to their advantage. As usual, the ordinary citizen will be but a bystander.
The arstechnica piece points out that “….the FCC could vote on a final plan to repeal net neutrality rules within months. If that happens, net neutrality proponents could cite irregularities in the commission's repeal process if and when they sue the FCC to restore the rules.” You can bet there will be lawsuits - a whole load of them. However, the end result will be no change in Pai’s wrecking ball - just a whole bunch of DC lawyers getting even richer.
Opinions are the writer's own.