The FCC’s “Blight Touch” & “Muddle Ground”

June 22, 2010

Clearly proponents of net neutrality and public-utility regulation of broadband, have learned how to manipulate language and metaphors to mask and move their agenda; what they haven’t learned is that the language and metaphors used to promote policy changes must be true in order to make legitimate, successful, and lasting public policy.

  • The communications plan for the FCC’s proposed broadband regulation of the Internet is full of fiction, fantasy and misdirection.
  • What’s increasingly obvious is that proponents of preemptive proscriptive broadband regulation think people are stupid, that they don’t know what words mean, and that they will gullibly swallow whatever is said without thought or question.
  • Broadband regulation proponents are fantastically claiming that:
    • An obviously heavy-handed regulatory approach is really a “light touch;”
    • The FCC’s most extreme and sweeping regulatory proposal ever is really just a “middle ground” compromise;

    • A more government-controlled Internet is actually a more “open” Internet; and
    • Agreement among the fringe somehow constitutes broad “consensus.”


“Light” or “Blight” Touch?

Very few believe that reversing the existing well-known status quo of “light touch” regulation (i.e. after-the-fact, case-by-case broadband enforcement), with new preemptive and proscriptive common carrier public utility regulation of broadband prices, terms and conditions, can be characterized as “light touch” regulation.

  • What makes regulation “light touch” is that the Government only intervenes when there is a real proven problem and targets the solution at the narrowly-determined problem.
  • What makes the proposed FCC approach obviously heavy-handed is that it:
    • Sweepingly regulates an entire sector that has a near perfect record over the last 6 years of not engaging in the anti-competitive behavior that the FCC says it seeks to prevent;
    • Forces an industry to change from responding quickly and innovatively to market developments, to seeking months-long, “Mother may I?” permission from the FCC to compete and do business differently;
    • Punishes a couple thousand companies that have done nothing wrong, and have had no allegations of doing anything wrong, to stiff, preemptive, and punitive regulation; and
    • Forces a competitive industry to endure economic regulation designed for monopolies that these competitors do not have.

 

 

The FCC’s planned approach would more appropriately be characterized as a “blight touch,” because the dictionary definition of “blight” is: “something that impairs growth, withers hopes and ambitions, or impedes progress and prosperity.


“Middle ground or Muddle ground?”

 Very few are falling for the obvious straw man political argument of the FCC’s “Third Way.” The fake “straw man” is that the FCC theoretically could do something much more horrible and destructive that most everyone would oppose — i.e. complete Title II common carrier regulation. This straw man enables the FCC to claim that by not applying all of Title II regulations they could pile on the sector, they are being magnanimous and merciful — and hence are offering a “middle ground” compromise… at least in their minds.

  • People are not stupid, they understand that this is like telling innocent people that they should be happy and grateful that the death penalty has been mercifully taken off the table for them, and that they should be thankful for only getting life imprisonment without parole for doing nothing wrong!
  • And what “ground” could be possibly more muddled, mixed up and confusing than choosing a regulation approach that requires the FCC to make very strong public and legal arguments for both adding and subtracting regulation at the very same time!?
  • Generally when people argue polar opposite positions — like more regulation is essential, but less regulation/forbearance is essential too — at the exact same time, they are talking out of both sides of their mouths.
    • People are not stupid, they get that this “muddle ground” is all politics and spin, not serious regulatory or legal analysis.


Re-imagining Openness as regulation?

The whole concept of an “open Internet” as a “platform of Innovation, opportunity and prosperity” has been turned on its head by the FCC’s proposed Title II broadband Internet regulation.

  • Miriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law defines an “open market as “a freely competitive market in which any buyer and seller may trade and in which prices are set by competition.”
  • How can the FCC still maintain it advocates the “open market” of “innovation, opportunity and prosperity,” that the FCC indicates an “open Internet” means, when it is proposing to regulate which buyers and sellers may buy and sell what, and when it is asserting the FCC’s authority to effectively set prices, terms and conditions, not competititon.
  • To be honest and consistent with the meaning of the term, the FCC either has to give up its desire for an “open Internet” where competition rules, or it has to give up its desire for a Title II regulated broadband Internet, because they are logically and semantically opposite and mutually-exclusive goals.


Re-imagining “consensus”

If the FCC’s proposal was truly based on broad “consensus” views, why would there be such widespread, deep, and vocal opposition?

  • Everyone involved with Internet policy over the last fifteen years knows that there is no broad “consensus” in support for the FCC declaring broadband a telephone common carrier service, because the longstanding overwhelming bipartisan consensus has been to not tax or price regulate the Internet (see the latest overwhelming bipartisan Congressional vote in 2007 for an Internet Tax Moratorium through 2014, and see the bipartisan majority of Congress who wrote the FCC last month in opposition to the FCC’s broadband regulation plans.)
  • No amount of spin and word abuse can mask the widespread opposition to the FCC’s proposed Title II broadband regulations.

In sum, the FCC’s choice of language strongly suggests they assume people are stupid, uninformed, and easily manipulated.

  • The FCC’s purported “light touch,” is more like the “blight touch” of decay.
  • The FCC’s claimed “middle ground” is no such thing, it is confusing “muddled ground.”
  • The FCC’s concept of openness is the exact opposite of the dictionary meaning of the term in this context.
  • And finally, there is no consensus for the FCC’s proposed regulations, there is bipartisan consensus against them.
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