from the unserious-people dept
As the FCC gets closer to restoring net neutrality, a new and bizarre GOP talking point has emerged. It goes something like this: if you’re going to restore some modest rules holding telecom monopolies accountable, you just have to dismantle a law that protects free speech on the internet! This of course makes no coherent sense whatsoever, but that’s not stopping those looking to demolish Section 230, a law that is integral to protecting speech online.
Take FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, for example. Despite having a post at the nation’s top communications regulator, Carr is literally incapable of even acknowledging that US telecom monopolies exist. Or that said monopolization is directly responsible for the high broadband prices, spotty coverage, terrible customer service, and/or sluggish speeds everybody loathes. His tenure has been spent rubber stamping the every whim of Comcast and AT&T, yet, for no coherent reason whatsoever he’s emerged as a major voice in the conversation about Section 230 and social media.
This week, Carr had this to say at the INCOMPAS policy summit:
While there certainly are moments these worlds collide (like Amazon AWS or Google Fiber) this is not a good faith argument, and conflating net neutrality and the debate over 230 into one incoherent ball is a tactical strategy, not a real legal or policy argument.
Like it or not, net neutrality was simply an effort — in the absence or real US broadband market competition — to create some baseline rules preventing natural, physical telecom monopolies from abusing their market power. Power they attempted to abuse time, and time, and time, and time again. The Trumpist GOP assault on Section 230, by contrast, is the brain fart of an unqualified and corrupt ex-president, designed largely to bully content platforms into carrying hate speech and political disinformation, cornerstones of modern GOP power in the wake of changing US demographics and a sagging electoral base.
The latter is dressed up as something more noble and patriotic than it really is. But there’s absolutely nothing meaningfully tethering one policy debate to the other. Well, aside from the blistering hypocrisy required for FCC Commissioners like Carr to claim that FCC efforts to hold telecom monopolies accountable was “socialism” or “government run amok,” then pivoting on a dime to support Trump’s ridiculous attempt to have the FCC regulate social media (despite having no authority to do so).
Of course this same bizarre conflation also recently popped up over at Fox Business courtesy of an anonymous “former FCC official” (possibly ex FCC boss turned cable lobbyist Mike Powell) in a piece that uses the exact same illogical framing (and even the word “holistic”):
“If Democrats want to talk about net neutrality, they?re going to have to include Big Tech,? says one former FCC official. “It has to be a holistic conversation.”
Uh, no they don’t?
There’s absolutely nothing, anywhere that fully tethers the two policies, and just claiming otherwise repeatedly won’t magically make it true. It’s clear the GOP wants to confuse the public into conflating “net neutrality” with some imagined requirement for platform and service “neutrality.” They’ve already confused “being held accountable for being a lying asshole on the internet” and “being kicked off a private service for clearly violating its terms of service” with “censorship,” and Fox is more than happy to muddy the water further:
“GOP activists and lobbyists interviewed by FOX Business concede legislation that would extend net neutrality rules to Big Tech is a long shot given the current makeup of Congress. Still, they believe they can start a debate on the matter that could focus the public’s attention on what they believe is the tech industry’s stifling of conservative voices.”
Let’s be clear: the GOP has made “big tech” public enemy number one not because they genuinely care about corporate power or monopolization, but because companies like Twitter finally started more seriously policing hate speech and political disinformation after the country almost imploded. At the same time, the GOP is literally incapable of even acknowledging that “big telecom” (1) exists, or (2) is a problem. That’s in part thanks to telecom lobbyists, who’ve been beating that particular drum for years as they attempt to grab a broader share of online video advertising by lobbying for a lopsided policy environment.
The GOP position here is about money and political power, and all else is performative bullshit.
If you really want to crack down on monopolies, let’s have that conversation and apply it to all industries, not just the one you’re currently trying to pressure for political reasons. Let’s talk about shoring up antitrust, and perhaps not rubber stamping every job and competition killing megamerger that comes down the road. Let’s talk about campaign finance reform, so giants like AT&T (or Facebook and Google) aren’t literally writing state and federal law. This is not, I can assure you, a conversation the Trump-obsessed GOP actually wants to have, despite the occasional policy wonk claim to the contrary.
Regardless, as the conversation heats back up about net neutrality, you can expect a lot of dodgy op-eds parroting this intentional conflation. Because who wants to have an honest, good faith discussion about US tech policy reform, when you can instead try to confuse the public into supporting your bad faith victimization complex?
Filed Under: brendan carr, broadband, fcc, net neutrality, section 230