Congressional Opponents Of Net Neutrality Try To Shame FCC Boss For Standing Up To ISPs

from the nontransparent-puppeteering dept

Now that our shiny new net neutrality rules are on the sixty-day march toward formal approval, there’s of course only two real ways neutrality opponents can overturn them: either a lawsuit or a 2016 party change. Since they’re legislatively impotent on the matter for the time being, net neutrality opponents in Congress have decided the next best thing is to publicly shame FCC boss Tom Wheeler — for literally weeks on end. As such, Wheeler faces at least five hearings over the next two weeks all with one goal: publicly punishing him for standing up to giant ISPs and supporting net neutrality.

The primary talking point being used against Wheeler is that he was “improperly” influenced by the White House. Because Wheeler came out in support of Title II after the White House’s November support for the idea, the narrative goes, somehow there’s dangerous chicanery afoot. Except as we’ve noted previously, the White House voicing desired policy trajectory doesn’t violate any rules, and is standard operating procedure — like when former President George W. Bush urged FCC boss Michael Powell to ease off media consolidation rules, or when Clinton urged former FCC chief Reed Hundt to ban hard liquor sales on television.

Still, this week’s hearing and “fact finding mission” before the House Oversight Committee (again, the first of five over the next few weeks) focused almost entirely on transparency, and how the White House somehow bullied an independent agency into approving tougher net neutrality rules. In Wheeler’s testimony (pdf), he again denies he was pressured, stating that he only came to embrace Title II after countless legal experts made it clear it was the most legally defensible platform for the rules to stand on:

“We heard from over 140 Members of Congress. We heard from the Administration, both in the form of President Obama?s very public statement of November 10 and in the form of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration?s formal submission. Here I would like to be clear. There were no secret instructions from the White House. I did not, as CEO of an independent agency, feel obligated to follow the President?s recommendation. But I did feel obligated to treat it with respect just as I have with the input I received ? both pro and con – from 140 Senators and Representatives.”

Of course, this doesn’t help propagate the narrative that Obama is forcing the FCC to destroy the Internet because he’s the devil and hates jobs. As such, Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz handed out a packet of e-mails (pdf) to hearing attendees he claimed indisputably prove undue White House influence on the FCC. Except if you bother to actually read them, they don’t actually show anything of the sort. For example, one e-mail only shows a top AT&T lobbyist (who other included e-mails suggest to be Jim Cicconi, no stranger to undue influence of his own) vaguely claiming improper behavior just, well, because:

Another e-mail provided by House leaders features former Harry Reid staffer David Krone (formerly a Comcast lobbyist) urging the White House to back away from their Title II support:

In a third e-mail, Wheeler amusingly seems to suggest The White House coordinated with protesters to annoy the FCC boss in his driveway last November:

None of the e-mails come remotely close to showing Wheeler buckled to heavy White House pressure. In fact, the third e-mail actually appears to show Wheeler being resistant to White House influence (it’s worth noting said protestors say they also protested at the White House and weren’t “directed” by anyone). Few people expected much from Wheeler given his cable and wireless lobbying past, but if you read any of the better profiles of the FCC boss, you come away with the impression of an older man, no longer beholden to partisan whims or bullies, who actually makes decisions based on the evidence at hand. That’s an increasingly rare trait anywhere, much less in Washington. As such, it’s probably best to punish him for it.

Of course, when a few hearing attendees wanted to flip the conversation and highlight broadband industry influence on neutrality rules opposition, suddenly this desire for transparency wasn’t quite so pronounced. Documents at the hearing, for example, highlighted how FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly had help from industry in editing an anti-neutrality editorial last year. But O’Rielly was quick to issue a statement saying he didn’t need to document these discussions “because they were commenting on my personal views and advocacy, not lobbying or expressing views to the Commission in any capacity.”

Again, none of this means much of anything since the rules have been passed. Still, the idea that Obama “forced” Wheeler to embrace Title II helps frame the ongoing narrative that this is an “Obamacare style takeover of the Internet“, and not an unprecedented and incredibly rare capitulation to genuine, bipartisan public interest. Meanwhile, while a breathless love of transparency is the cornerstone of these hearings — that adoration only apparently extends up to the point where it begins to show broadband industry influence over net neutrality opposition.

If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can watch the entire hearing below:

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Comments on “Congressional Opponents Of Net Neutrality Try To Shame FCC Boss For Standing Up To ISPs”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Perhaps, in addition to our current voting system, we could incorporate some kind of approval system wherein if an elected official falls below a certain approval rating, they are automatically replaced by the next person in line.
This way, we’ll have less people trying to look their best for elections and then spend the rest of their time fucking over the people who elected them.

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Members of the House of Representatives are already up for election every two years. How much more often do you want to replace them?

Also, the approval rating for individual members of Congress by their own constituents generally stays above 50% otherwise, they wouldn’t be reelected. Yours is a system that sounds good but has a couple major failings.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: This is Why we Need Term Limits

I’d argue that if anything term limits have made things worse, exacerbating the “revolving door problem” between Congress and industry.

[cynicism] Elected officials looking ahead to when they’re termed out just treat their term of office as an extended job interview for their next, even more lucrative gig. [/cynicism]

JoeDetroit (profile) says:

Re: This is Why we Need Term Limits

No. Term limits are not the way. Then the unknowns (usually moronic ideologues that won’t govern) with the backing money take over. Look to Michigan for a good example. They couldn’t govern their way out of a paper bag.

Will not. WONT. no matter what. EVER. fix our roads.

Getting private money out of elections is the only way to start. Want to know who is in charge? Follow the money.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: I still think a SS# lottery, as radical as it is, might be a better idea.

Long before that, let’s try to eliminate first-past-the-post elections with one of the several better schemes. But that won’t see results for half a century or longer.

Reform isn’t happening. Period. So, really such notions are for the next regime after the revolution and the terror.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This is Why we Need Term Limits

That’s going to be quite hard to do. Many of them get kickbacks in the form of campaign donations and promises of cushy jobs at the end of their term plus many other indirect benefits.

We the people would have to top or at least match whatever current offers they have to get them to sit on our side.

Almost nobody goes into politics because they want to help people. They get into politics either to keep their wealth or to get rich.

Kelledin (profile) says:

Yeeeeah…there’s even some insinuation from the Congressional anti-NN crowd that not only did Obama conspire with Wheeler, PopularResistance somehow conspired with the White House to force Wheeler down this road.

“Agent Double-Oh-Bama reporting to Blue Dingo. The fuckwit has jumped the shark. Repeat, the fuckwit has jumped the shark.”

“Read you loud and clear, agent. Beware, in the garden of good and weasel, the elephant shits freely. Over and out.”

I wish the jackholes involved in this new drama could be tarred, feathered, and chased out of the Capitol by now. In the meantime, congrats to Wheeler for showing extraordinary grace under pressure. I noticed yesterday he literally finds this as laughable as we do.

Anonymous Coward says:

so what if Wheeler accuses those politicians concerned of being improperly influenced by the ISPs and cable companies, to the tune of $8million, would that shame them? if not it damn well ought to! they have consistently sailed the people they represent down the river, taking ‘campaign funds’ from companies that demand backing for what they want in return!

Teamchaos (profile) says:

You just don't get it.

Let the games begin. Now that the FCC will regulate the Internet, rich corporations will have even more control, resulting in reduced competition, lower performance, and higher prices.

We were better off with a free Internet.

Freedom through regulation? I don’t think so. It just doesn’t make sense that a site like techdirt would support more government control of the Internet.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: You just don't get it.

“It just doesn’t make sense that a site like techdirt would support more government control of the Internet.”

Saying “more governmental control” is a bit misleading and alarmist, but I’ll skip past that. The reason that I think that the FCC rule change is, on balance, a good thing is easy to understand: right now, internet access is governed by major multinational corporations that have already begun to abuse their power position to harm the internet and citizenry. The NN rules are a relatively small effort to mitigate some of that abuse.

So we’re choosing the lesser of two evils here, and in this case, it’s clear to me that the FCC is the lesser evil. If, however, what you say is true — that the rules encourage abuse by the corporations — then we aren’t any worse off than before.

Teamchaos (profile) says:

Re: Re: You just don't get it.

Lesser of two evils. I’ll choose the free market over government governed markets every time. Reminds me of the most terrifying words in the English language “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”.

Specifically, the market adapts way quicker than government does. If an unfair practice becomes law, it takes on a life of it’s own and is very hard to change. E.g. anti-sodomy laws that are still on the books or just recently removed. The market adapts, new competitors and products force change – if government had regulated the buggy whip industry we’d still be riding horses because cars would have been considered unfair competition. The buggy whip companies would have claimed cars are unsafe and some government stooge would have passed a law limiting or outlawing the use of cars. The next great Internet innovation will face the same kind of scrutiny by a government that supports the current technology. Look no further than what’s going on with Tesla, Uber, Lyft, the auto dealers and taxi companies are fighting tooth and nail to keep their markets – with government regulations as their weapon of choice.

Zonker says:

Re: Re: Re: You just don't get it.

The Telecommunications Act was written and passed to address the very issue that phone service was not a free market and at the time subject to monopoly abuse. As a result, today I have more choice in phone service providers than I do between ISPs. Thanks to common carrier status, I can get phone service from a virtual network operator such as Consumer Cellular and get far better service than I ever got from Verizon or AT&T.

If it weren’t for the Telecommunications Act and Title II, most likely your only choice for phone service would be AT&T, you would have to lease each phone you use from them, and phone service would still be unavailable in many rural areas where the population was too low and remote to get enough of a return on investment. Ironically, it took government regulation to break up the monopoly and restore some semblance of a free market in phone service.

Why should we not have the same when it comes to ISP service?

Teamchaos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 You just don't get it.

Thank you Zonker. That’s probably the most cogent reply I’ve received to my post.

The issue I have with your post is that Internet access is not a monopoly. With wireless, cable, satellite, and the phone company most people probably have at least four or five different means to connect to the Internet. We have a competitive marketplace that is thriving with innovation, not a single provider like Ma Bell that you site as the rationale behind Title II.

Most of the arguments that I’ve seen in support of net neutrality paint doomsday scenarios if we don’t increase government regulation. If doomsday occurs, I might back move government regulation, but it hasn’t.

Many cite the Netflix example. ISPs trying to charge Netflix to prioritize it’s traffic and in some cases Netflix agreed to pay the fare. This cost will ultimately be passed on to Netflix subscribers. Netflix (and I’m a subscriber) is a bandwidth hog that will slow down traffic on the Internet. Who should pay for the increased infrastructure to support Netflix traffic? The subscribers should. Under net neutrality all traffic is treated equally, so we all pay for the bandwidth hogs either in terms of increased ISP charges (to fund infrastructure) or in reduced performance, not to mention increased taxes on our Internet access (someone has to pay for all the regulators).

It’s true that many rural areas are under served. Government grants can solve this without net neutrality. I’m not an anarchist, as some in this thread have posited, I just believe in limited government control.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 You just don't get it.

With wireless, cable, satellite, and the phone company most people probably have at least four or five different means to connect to the Internet.

Wireless and satellite are not generally viable options for home broadband – not for the sort of things people want to do with their internet connections today, let alone in a few years.

Netflix (and I’m a subscriber) is a bandwidth hog that will slow down traffic on the Internet.

Every time someone makes this claim, they’re ignoring the fact that the ISP’s customer requested that traffic. Netflix is not randomly spamming Verizon’s network, rather Verizon’s customers are attempting to use the service they’re paying for.

The subscribers should.

Right. Netflix should pay their ISP, and I should pay my ISP. Netflix should not have to pay my ISP.

Under net neutrality all traffic is treated equally, so we all pay for the bandwidth hogs either in terms of increased ISP charges (to fund infrastructure) or in reduced performance,

Yes, that is one thing Title II cannot fix – there is no real competition. However, it’s still better than the alternative, and we will be made to pay one way or another. The ISPs will make sure of that. The question is whether we want to pay for an open internet or not.

not to mention increased taxes on our Internet access (someone has to pay for all the regulators).

Citation needed.

It’s true that many rural areas are under served. Government grants can solve this without net neutrality.

Only if the ISPs are forced to actually spend the money on infrastructure, which is not what’s happened so far.

Zonker says:

Re: Re: Re:3 You just don't get it.

I don’t see using the bandwidth we pay for as “bandwidth hogging” at all. Comcast promises 100 Mbps in my area. Speed test says I get about 60-70 Mbps on a good day. Netflix only uses up to 5 Mbps for a HD movie. So a family of four could use up to 20 Mbps and still have up to 80 Mbps available. Even at the slower 50 Mbps speeds a few months ago they would still have up to 30 Mbps available.

If Comcast can’t support that, then they oversold their available bandwidth and never intended you to actually use what you paid for. That is bad network planning and they should spend the money to fix it or build it right rather than buying Time Warner for $45.2 billion. The only way someone could be a bandwidth hog is for them to somehow obtain more Mbps than they were allotted on their plan.

What Netflix paid Comcast for could have been solved with a couple extra patch cables and maybe an extra hub if their existing ones were full at the interconnection between Comcast’s network and Level 3 (Netflix’s ISP). Netflix even offered to do this for Comcast at their own expense (tens of dollars for cables or a couple grand for a new hub), but Comcast refused forcing Netflix to pay both their ISP and ours.

This would just be the start. If every ISP can charge Netflix to reach their customers (in addition to their own ISP for actual internet service), then why not charge Skype, or YouTube, or Amazon Video, or Apple TV. Everyone has to pay every ISP to get full internet service to their clients. All that extra unearned income will eventually allow Comcast to grow and merge with every other ISP becoming one giant monopoly ISP.

So yes, action does need to be taken now to prevent that before it becomes the norm and too entrenched to reverse the damage. And yes, I see the actions of Comcast and Verizon as very damaging to the internet. In the 90’s I had a choice between dozens of ISPs over telephone lines. Now I have only two: slower Frontier FIOS (and why is it slower, it’s supposed to be bleeding edge fiber optic?) or overpriced Comcast Xfinity. Satellite is too high latency and wireless too limited in both range and bandwidth. DSL has already been abandoned by their providers and dial-up can’t even come close to broadband speed (56 kbps. That’s kilobits per second).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: You just don't get it.

You are delusional.

The FCC is not regulating the internet, it is telling the corporations there are limits. Not unlike most other parts of a civil society, there are limits to what one can do when it interferes with others.

More Control, Reduced Competition, Lower Performance, Higher Prices … sounds like an ISP mission statement.

We never had a “Free Internet”, not sure wtf you are going on about.

Again … and listen up this time … it is not regulation of what the consumer wants, it is limiting what the corporations can do to the consumers.

Sounds like you are not in favor of government regulation at all, you’re probably one of those anarchists huh. How would you like to have someone break into your house, take your things, whatever … you probably agree with regulating those kinds of actions – right? Damn government telling me I can’t break into houses and take their shit, wtf man!??

Zgaidin (profile) says:

You just don't get it

I consider myself a libertarian; I am generally in favor of free markets and generally opposed to government regulations, but it’s time libertarians stopped blindly espousing the “free market” rhetoric and conflating it with unregulated markets. We live in an age where some multinational corporations have a higher net income than some UN countries have GDP. Members of congress can apparently be bought for just a $10-20k. System/market capture is no longer only possible by vested government agencies, and a captured market is not a “free market.”

Anonymous Coward says:

“[…] declare today that regulations written in the 1930’s will work fine for 2014 technology.”

1) We either force technology to bend to the letter of the law which is getting increasingly harder because of, you know, the LAWS OF PHYSICS.

2) We bring our laws in line with what is physically possible with technology, both sides making a concession that is better than a stalemate over a dumb game of “my rights, your rights”.

Guess what Big Money’s going to choose.

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