Marsha Blackburn Wants ISPs To Sell 'Fast Lanes' Like 'TSA Pre-Check'
from the this-is-why-we-can't-have-nice-things dept
You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger telecom sector crony than Tennessee Representative Marsha Blackburn. From her attacks on net neutrality and consumer privacy, to her support of SOPA and AT&T-written protectionist state laws hampering competition, it’s effectively impossible to find a subject where Blackburn didn’t take the side of regional broadband monopolies over consumers. It’s a major reason that as Blackburn tries to jump from the House to the Senate (to nab Bob Corker’s seat) she’s found herself notably behind in the polls in a state Trump won by 26 points.
Last week, Blackburn took time out of her busy schedule to participate in a show pony Senate hearing pushed by entrenched telecom operators. Its purpose: to try and sell the public and lawmakers on the idea that killing net neutrality and allowing things like “paid prioritization” (letting one company buy a network advantage over another) will actually somehow be a good thing.
Despite their “victory” on the net neutrality repeal, large ISPs like AT&T and Comcast are worried. They’re worried that the FCC’s clumsy repeal will be overturned by the looming court battle, and they’re worried about how more than half the states in the nation are now pursuing their own net neutrality rules. That’s why they’ve been pushing (with Blackburn’s help) for a fake net neutrality law. One that pretends to nobly “put the issue to bed,” but contains so many loopholes as to be useless. Its real purpose: pre-empt tougher state rules, and prevent the FCC’s 2015 rules from being re-instated in the chance of a court loss.
To sell this policy turd, ISPs and loyal foot soldiers like Blackburn have been trying to make anti-competitive behavior sound sexy. Like here, when Blackburn tries to claim that ISPs should emulate the TSA and its pre-check program as they explore the prioritization of content:
“Many of you sitting in this room right now paid a line-sitter to get priority access to this hearing. In fact, it is commonplace for the government itself to offer priority access to services. If you have ever used Priority Mail, you know this to be the case. And what about TSA Precheck? It just might have saved you time as you traveled here today. If you define paid prioritization as simply the act of paying to get your own content in front of the consumer faster, prioritized ads or sponsored content are the basis of many business models online, as many of our members pointed out at the Facebook hearing last week.”
So one, no competent person would suggest the TSA’s security theater efforts are worth emulation. Two, quality net neutrality rules always ban anti-competitive paid prioritization deals for good reason. If an ISP lets, say, Disney buy a speed and latency advantage, that puts companies, startups and non-profits that can’t afford to pay that same toll at unfair disadvantage. Such deals might be a great money maker for AT&T and Comcast and good for companies that can afford them, but it remains a terrible idea for anybody that wants the internet to remain relatively open and competitive.
Not coincidentally, Blackburn’s proposed net neutrality law (likely written by AT&T) bans all of the ham-fisted things ISPs never really had much interest in (the outright blocking of websites, for example), but turns the other cheek on a laundry list of other potentially problematic behaviors like like paid prioritization.
ISPs and their loyal lawmakers like Blackburn have tried repeatedly to insist bans on paid prioritization hamstring innovative services and things like medical care. But that’s never been true: the FCC’s 2015 rules didn’t ban prioritization (VoIP, health services), just anti-competitive paid prioritization. Worried that their repeal won’t hold, ISP lobbyists are back again trying to conflate the two concepts (prioritization versus unfair paid prioritization), while insisting that screwing up the open internet will somehow be efficient, fun and productive.