No, The FTC Is Not Going To Do A Good Job Policing Net Neutrality

from the this-does-not-end-well dept

We’ve noted repeatedly how broadband ISPs aren’t just trying to kill net neutrality, they’re trying to kill nearly all state and federal oversight over giant telecom monopolies entirely. From language buried in the net neutrality repeal aimed at preventing states from protecting consumers, to attempts to neuter the FCC and shovel all remaining oversight to an FTC ill-suited to police telecom operators, the end goal really is little to no real oversight of some of the least liked, least competitive companies in any industry.

While this is all being portrayed as “regulatory modernization” by ISPs and their armies of consultants and allies, former FCC Boss Tom Wheeler has gone so far as to call the effort a “fraud.” Wheeler was quick to note that not only does the FTC lack rule-making authority, it can only act against an ISP if it can be very clearly shown that the ISP’s actions were “unfair or deceptive.” That’s tricky to do in the net neutrality era where anti-competitive behavior is often disguised as “reasonable network management.”

The ISP narrative being parroted about is that the FTC is somehow better suited to police net neutrality than an FCC custom-built by Congress for the purpose. But that’s patently false, and as Wheeler noted in an interview last year, ISPs know that shifting oversight authority from the FCC to FTC will leave ISPs lost in the regulatory wash (which is the entire purpose of their gambit):

In the Trump administration, people are talking about stripping regulatory power from the FCC, and essentially taking the agency apart (including moving jurisdiction over internet access to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC]). “Modernizing” the FCC is the lingo being used. What’s your thought about that?

It’s a fraud. The FTC doesn’t have rule-making authority. They’ve got enforcement authority and their enforcement authority is whether or not something is unfair or deceptive. And the FTC has to worry about everything from computer chips to bleach labeling. Of course, carriers want [telecom issues] to get lost in that morass. This was the strategy all along.

So it doesn’t surprise me that the Trump transition team?—?who were with the American Enterprise Institute and basically longtime supporters of this concept?—?comes in and says, “Oh, we oughta do away with this.” It makes no sense to get rid of an expert agency and to throw these issues to an agency with no rule-making power that has to compete with everything else that’s going on in the economy, and can only deal with unfair or deceptive practices.

Wheeler’s warning was ignored and as of June 11 (net neutrality’s formal death date, for now), this is the agency that’s going to be tasked with holding AT&T, Comcast, Charter and Verizon accountable to the public. Meanwhile Andrew M. Smith, the man being appointed to head the FTC consumer protection division tasked with enforcing what’s left of net neutrality (read: nothing) isn’t exactly instilling confidence:

“The new director of the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection unit, a watchdog with broad investigative powers over private companies, stands out even in an administration prone to turning over regulatory authority to pro-industry players…in 2012, Mr. Smith was also part of the legal team that defended AMG Services, the payday lender founded by the convicted racketeer Scott Tucker, whose predatory practices against impoverished borrowers eventually led to a $1.3 billion court-ordered settlement, the biggest in the commission’s history.

“It’s outrageous the F.T.C. would pick the lawyer for a criminally convicted racketeer’s payday loan company as consumer protection chief,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who opposed Mr. Smith’s selection. “The agency should pick someone with a track record of protecting consumers, not companies that cheat people.”

And while it’s true that a lawyer isn’t defined by who he or she represents, it also remains pretty clear that Smith has zero experience protecting consumers or startups, making him a dubious selection for the job. And given his laundry list of past employment for companies ranging from Uber and Equifax (who he defended during their recent privacy kerfuffle), he’s going to have to recuse himself from a long list of decisions at the FTC, which also doesn’t make him a particularly compelling hire.

It shouldn’t take a doctoral degree to understand how this massive regulatory paradigm shift ends badly for consumers, startups, and the health of the internet. And this is all before you realize that AT&T is currently in court trying to argue that the FTC has no authority over monopoly ISPs whatsoever, something ISPs (and their list of pay to play allies) just kind of conveniently omit when talking about how the FTC is perfectly suited to help protect the open internet and the would-be competitors of tomorrow.

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Comments on “No, The FTC Is Not Going To Do A Good Job Policing Net Neutrality”

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29 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Now that is a dishonest statement if I ever saw one.

I have only witnessed the growth of government since I have been alive. Sure some GOP types have called for “lesser” government but that is not the same as “dismantling government”.

I do agree that a government that governs least government best but to make the claim that the GOP is actually for that is just not truth of any kind. Just like the Democrats lie when they say they are for equality, the GOP lies when it says it is for smaller government.

Will believe it when I see it happen, NOT when they only pay lip service to it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Now that is a dishonest statement if I ever saw one.”
– What, the statement that you are not wrong? Interesting, because the rest of the comment is a question.

” .. called for “lesser” government but that is not the same as “dismantling government”.”
– Never made that claim. My question to you was based upon current events. The GOP is dismantling our government, the fact that you disagree is part of the problem. I’m not sure if it is due to ignorance or something much worse.

” Democrats lie when they say they are for equality, the GOP lies when it says it is for smaller government.”
– And again, you are not wrong.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I can’t wait until they manage to kill themselves off.
Eventually people will go back to doing without simply because the price is far to high for what they get.
People will switch to smaller plans, forego data, and learn to love writing letters again.

While we’re all addicted to it, eventually its going to cost more than rent per month & people will learn to love antennas.

Lets just watch the shit show spiral & wait for that day the industry comes begging for a government bail out because they are going broke.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You are aware that the internet is used for far more than leisure purposes, right? Also that it’s only the US that’s directly affected by this stuff and the rest of the world will continue even if you remove yourselves from the internet?

I’m just asking, because you appear to be stating things from the perspective of it being an optional activity that won’t have any negative affect on your economy if it fails.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, the over bearing authoritarians want to control the masses in every aspect. Restricting their access to jobs and mobility ensure a good supply of wage slaves, all you need to do is blow smoke up their asses and fight all increases in the minimum wage and health care. Do not pay any attention to those do gooders who refuse to do business with assholes.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Lets just watch the shit show spiral & wait for that day the industry comes begging for a government bail out because they are going broke."

That ‘going broke’ analysis will be based upon the current annual/quarterly reports as the prior year/quarters money will have been banked/paid out as salary, bonus, dividend. The major stockholders will have been warned in advance (surreptitiously of course) so that they might take short positions on their stock holdings.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

…making him a dubious selection for the job. […] …he’s going to have to recuse himself from a long list of decisions at the FTC, which also doesn’t make him a particularly compelling hire.

What rock did you say you spend your time under? The way Washington works these days, zero experience in representing the citizenry is the only qualification for the job, and conflict of interest (or outright bribe-taking) is just (non-)regulation as usual.

Richard Bennett (profile) says:

Today's Big Lie

His had me rolling on the floor: “The ISP narrative being parroted about is that the FTC is somehow better suited to police net neutrality than an FCC custom-built by Congress for the purpose.”

Um, the FCC was created in 1934, but there wasn’t an Internet of any kind before 1969 (ARPANET) or 1983 (TCP/IP flag day). The 1996 update to the Communications Act only mentioned the Internet in relation to porn, and the fight over Title II shows how little direction the law gives FCC on net neutrality.

Try again, Karl.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Today's Big Lie

Go easy on the ideologists pining for NN and a Strong FTC. Their fantasies are strong and what’s even worse is that over time they are going to win big for the government and regulatory capture while losing big as consumers and citizens.

They can’t help themselves it seems. We sit here reading articles on government corruption and they still call for more power and control in government. Any attempt to fix the corruption is met with ignorance and dogma against it.

We add more and more regulation each year, each year the wealth gap grows, each year the monopolies get bigger, each year choice diminishes. Each year they get dumber and parrot the same lies from centuries ago that government will save them and a utopia realized.

Government: Under the guise of helping/protecting you, we will enslave you!
TD: Yes Please!!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Today's Big Lie

Gaslighting, the new way to mistreat your minions.

Act now for your free, no risk, copy of the three easy steps to gaslight your underlings, be it government or private business you win – all the time and you can go home and kick the dog because you had a good day!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Today's Big Lie

The 1996 update to the Communications Act only mentioned the Internet in relation to porn

OH? And Title V of the 1996 Act is what then? A mass hallucination? Some excerpts from the text:

(3) The Internet and other interactive computer services offer a
forum for a true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for
cultural development, and myriad avenues for intellectual activity.

(5) Increasingly Americans are relying on interactive media for a
variety of political, educational, cultural, and entertainment services.

(b) POLICY.–It is the policy of the United States–
(1) to promote the continued development of the Internet and other
interactive computer services and other interactive media;

(1) TREATMENT OF PUBLISHER OR SPEAKER.–No provider or user
of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or
speaker of any information provided by another information content
provider.

Huh, not one mention of porn in there. And this is only a small selection of the text.

Try again, Karl.

I still find it absolutely hilarious you think I’m Karl Bode.

Try again Richard me boyo.

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