Can The Government Really Walk The Line Of Regulating The Internet Without Screwing It Up?

from the questions-to-ask dept

Recently, when I wrote about new moves by the federal government to gain more regulatory control over the internet, I mentioned our discussion from a couple months ago of a presentation by Lawrence Strickling, the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (a division of the Department of Commerce), who tried to make the case that the government has a role in regulating the internet. As I noted at the time, if you read his full speech (and not just some of the hysterical coverage about it), it sounded as if he was really noting that the US already regulates many aspects of the internet, and the government needs to figure out the proper policies for handling those aspects.

It appears that he’s now building on that earlier speech. He recently gave another speech on the same topic, which he refers to as “Internet Policy 3.0.” And, once again, I understand the fine line that he’s trying to thread, but I worry about what it means in practice. He points out that the role of the government shouldn’t be heavy-handed, but as a way of making sure that people continue to trust the internet. He points to Section 230 of the CDA as an example of “good legislation” that has been very important to the success of the internet, and talks about using that as a model of the type of legislation that the feds should have.

All of that sounds good — and I’m sure his heart (and his mind) are in the right place on this… but the details still scare me to death. As in his earlier speech, he lists out areas where he thinks the government has a role to play. And, if you’re unfamiliar with the deeper details in any of those areas, it might be hard to disagree. But, as you dig deeper on each one, it gets more and more troubling. Take one area that is near and dear to the hearts of many folks here: copyright. Here’s what he has to say about copyright:

Copyright protection: How do we protect against illegal piracy of copyrighted works and intellectual property on the Internet while preserving the rights of users to access lawful content? NTIA and our sister agency at the Department of Commerce, the US Patent and Trademark Office, are beginning a comprehensive consultation process that will help the Administration develop a forward-looking set of policies to address online copyright infringement in a balanced, Internet-savvy manner.

Pretty non-descript and bland, and who would disagree with that idea? Well, if you’ve paid attention to the past history of copyright law, the above paragraph should scare you silly. Every single time that the US has developed new copyright policies, the process has totally been controlled by special interests whose goal have nothing to do with being balanced or internet-savvy — but about better protecting their own business models and building the walls up higher around them. And, to date, neither the Commerce Department, nor the USPTO, have given the slightest indication that they’re interested in changing that. In fact, Strickling’s boss has a history of buying into bogus claims from Hollywood.

And that’s the real fear on any of these things. The devil is very much in the details, and special interests have a really strong ability to influence the process and the details, so that any “balanced, internet-savvy” plan comes out as anything but that. For all of Strickling’s best intentions, opening these things up to new laws really opens them up to abuse by folks who are world-class experts in abusing the system.

Oh, and it should be noted, of course that Strickling’s “good example” of Section 230 of the CDA was sort of an accidental by-product of what was left over after the Supreme Court got around to throwing out pretty much all of the awful CDA. It’s easy to look in hindsight and say “this is a good law” and “this is a bad law,” but it’s incredibly difficult in advance. If there were actually a system and process for reviewing laws to see if they ever actually did what was promised, perhaps it would be worthwhile to experiment. But that’s not how the government works. Instead, politicians pass laws and just pretend they must do what they claim — and then unintended consequences are ignored until the problems become big enough that a new bad law takes the old bad law’s place.

Yes, that’s a cynical view, but it’s hard to argue with it when you look at the way the federal government works. So, as idealistic as Strickling may be, his ideas on Internet Policy 3.0 are incredibly scary, because of those unintended consequences that he can’t predict.

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Comments on “Can The Government Really Walk The Line Of Regulating The Internet Without Screwing It Up?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Has the US Government not screwed up anything it regulates?

95 year corporate copyright terms, lifetime of the artist plus seventy years for individuals. Retroactive copyright extensions ensures that nothing ever makes its way to the public domain. The punishment for accidental infringement far exceeds the punishment falsely claiming copyright on something one has no copyright on (the reverse should be true since the plaintiff is in a better position to know what they have copyrights on than the defendant). and if Lawrence Strickling were really interested in the public good he would first seek to fix these issues before seeking more restrictive laws but instead the government is not lifting a finger to fix any of this. Yes, the track record is very telling.

WammerJammer (profile) says:

Can the Government?

The Government is like the Police, they are only effective after the fact. The police do nothing to protect anyone except dignitaries. When the Government adds any new regulation they have to add new fees to support that regulation and it’s bureaucracy. In the United States recently Social Security enacted a Drug Plan for Seniors. Before the plan I paid no co-pay for the 5 drugs my Doctor prescribed. The next year it was raised to 1 dollar for each drug, OK not too bad but it is already costing the poor money they don’t have. But to make a long story short after 4 years in this drug plan I can only afford the the co-pay for 3 of the drugs instead of 5. 1 of the 2 prescriptions I can no longer afford had it’s co-pay raised to $153.00. So how did Government regulation help me? IT DOES NOT HELP!!!! I am worse off today than I was before the Government messed with it.
If the Government Regulates (Censors) the internet then we will become like China and be forced to buy SSL Pipes with private ports to be able to do anything online. Sound like a new business opportunity.
I quote: ‘The more you tighten your grip, the more Star Systems will slip through your fingers.’

NullOp says:


Are your effing shitting me? Our government can no more effectively regulate the internet than a pig can fly! If the government was in charge, the internet would turn into one big, effing mall, even more so than it is now, just to “support” business. And that is it! Certainly the cretins at the FCC could not help. All they see is dollar signs whenever they say the word “bandwidth”.

So, to sum up my thoughts….NO NO NO!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Regulation

“Our government can no more effectively regulate the internet than a pig can fly! “

If we put a pig in an airplane it can fly. Or if we created a genetically modified pig with wings.

Better yet, our government can no more effectively regulate the Internet than …. Well, I can’t find an appropriate analogy, but the government can’t regulate the Internet in the public interest.

Hulser (profile) says:

Review cycle

If there were actually a system and process for reviewing laws to see if they ever actually did what was promised, perhaps it would be worthwhile to experiment.

The more I read about the disastrous effects of the unintended consequences of new laws, the more I think it’d be a good idea to require periodic review any new law that Congress passes. Maybe review a law after the first year, then after five years. It might take a Constitutional amendment, but how could it not be a good idea for the government to review the effects of a law to see if it is actually conforming to its original intent?

“But wouldn’t that cause gridlock because it would take time away from the Congress to pass new laws?”, you ask. And my reply would be “So what?” [In my best Gordon Gecko voice] “Gridlock is good.” I think that the less the US government can do, the better off its citizens will be. (Not to mention that you might actually have some real bipartisanship if you knew that any law you passed would be reviewed by the next iteration of Congress.) If Congress can’t pass a bunch of new stupid laws because they have to spend time reviewing all of the old stupid laws, then I’m just fine with that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Review cycle

If the government regulated the Internet like it regulated everything else we’ll all be as clueless about the news as those who watch the mainstream media.

“but how could it not be a good idea for the government to review the effects of a law to see if it is actually conforming to its original intent?”

This system itself would wind up being abused. You assume to know the original intent, the government often says one thing as the original intent but those interested in passing a law intend something entirely different and more nefarious.

“The more I read about the disastrous effects of the unintended consequences”

Unintended consequences is euphemism for intended consequences, and if you are only beginning to see the disastrous effects then you must be very new around here and elsewhere on the net. This is only the tip of the iceberg, governmental corruption and nefarious motives are the rule, not the exception almost no matter where you turn. It’s just that the public is mostly kept ignorant, intentionally so.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Review cycle

Unintended consequences is euphemism for intended consequences

I see your point and I don’t discount it altogether, but for the most part, I think that the true unintended consequences outweight the unintented-but-really-intended consequences. “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Review cycle

That sounds like a good idea, but it wouldn’t do any good. Imagine Congress passes the Protect the Children from Dirty Raporists Act. In five years, it comes up for review. Is anyone going to vote to strike that law down because it’s not doing what it was supposed to? Of course not. Nobody wants their constituents being told they voted not to protect the children.

If Congress were all about doing the right thing for the country, this would be great. They could easily rectify their errors. But as long as they’re about political expediency and serving their campaign contributors, it wouldn’t have any effect.

Not to mention that it’s a moot debate anyway because the people who would put this in place would be Congress, and they certainly don’t want anything to do with it.

P3T3R5ON (profile) says:

Not big brother enough already?

If they are allowed to ‘regulate’ the internet they won’t need half the groups that occupy any given T.L.A. secret agencies. Just make a new massive agency and ‘regulate’ our lives, that will make everything better and under (their) control. Then they could start taking over as the only ISP in the US (for starters). At least that way I won’t have to deal with Comcast anymore. Remember monopolization is only illegal when you’re not the government.

After all that happens … the possibilities are endless to keep the government moving towards absolute control of everything in your life!!!!

vastrightwing (profile) says:

We all agree!

We all agree! Government “regulation” is not going to benefit the public. It will always benefit special interest. When I worked for a small manufacturing co., we directly benefited from new rules and regulation. Our customers had to buy our products because our equipment and supplies were necessary. Sure we had competition, but they didn’t matter because there was more than enough money to be made off of all the regulations. And there is no end to newer regulations to comply with. In short, regulating the internet will create more opportunities for companies to profit from them. The ones who suffer are the denizens the rules are supposed to benefit. If the masses would get involved with the process, this would change, but it’s not likely.

The answer? Time to build a different kind of communication medium and stay ahead of government. We need a method to communicate which doesn’t involve a large expensive infrastructure that can be regulated. The RF spectrum is out and wires is out. Maybe entanglement communication is also out because of the high cost of building such a device. Oh well

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: We all agree!

It’s the same thing with cars. The government requires certain things for a car to pass smog but many of those anti smog regulations require patented devices for the car to be legal and so this serves to keep out new competitors from entering the market.

I think that any regulation should avoid the requirement of something patented to build a new car or any (almost) required patents should be revoked and given over to the public domain.


i hear joe biden came buy

and he and some suits form L.A. were laughing sooooo hard
they actually fell over and created a tremor in California

as to fungus i suspect you mean you want to leave your cdrs in the fridge for a month with all the other warm fuzzy things
if you keep your rooms clean , and um er live not in tropical climate then you have nothing to fear, that bacteria can’t live in north america …maybe la and texas …hrmmmmmm

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: i hear joe biden came buy

What’s the deal with NAMELESS ONE? Is he a troll? A moron? Is he an AI program some comp sci student created to appear semi-trollish / semi-moronic in every Techdirt article? How can we fix the comment system to automatically collapse every NAMELESS ONE comment? I’m so intrigued by this guy / bot, but I’d not miss them if the comments disappeared.


solution to kiddy pron

y aknow most if not all is made in other coutnries right
well heres a job for your army

do something FOR THE CHILDREN
does nothing when yo simply cut off the easy access that you know of route that some sicko already has 4 other ways to import it

20 hackers and a elite mortor platoon should do the job at destroying all online facilities that house this sick crap
anything legal as in its 18 or older leave it be

start saying this a lot more and your gonna have these think of the children do no gooders looking like they are protecting those countries that shield and house and condone such sick shit

Bob Weiss (profile) says:

Governments Can Only Screw Things Up

To answer the question in the title – no. The governement can ONLY screw things up. Why? Because it is comprised mostly of rooms full of lawyers, and they are not a crowd known for either their technological savvy or their creative intelligence. They can only see a solution that involves more laws and regualtions. This is what is wrong with government and America – we are subject to a gigantic world view of the Lawyers Only Club, and ideas from outside the legal realm are not permitted to see the light of day.

The only hope is that we start to elect people to political office who truly represent a cross section of American business. We need a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, if you will. We need to overthrow the tyranny of the Lawyers’ Club.

In the meantime, governement intrusion into, and regulation of, anything at all will only make it suck more than it does already.

What’s my proof? Show me ONE, just ONE governement program that actually works.

Damien Bizeau (profile) says:

Eric F. Vermote - Piracy Expert

Very interesting article, thank you: I am one who also believe the Internet needs government regulation in America (very serious government action in France with new anti-piracy law called HADOPI starting to be officially applied for example). Eric F. Vermote illegally used P2P in Maryland during 2003-2004 (bootlegs & audio files for his car). This man with a IT degree works for NASA & the University of Maryland but went to jail for automobile theft in Florida… he is definitely not at all scrupulous with music too obviously and filed a defamation legal suit in France against me in July 2009 stipulating he never got involved in on-line piracy because he is a manipulative liar & because the case involved never got officially substantiated or couldn’t ever be substantiated; my point is that if the Internet had been better regulated by the US government Eric F. Vermote would not have had the opportunity to lie against me and pretend what I accused him of (on-line piracy) is frivolous. On-line piracy cases almost absolutely never get substantiated unfortunately! Damien Bizeau – Classical Music, France.

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