Who’s behind the push for net neutrality?

If “net neutrality” were a life form, it would be classified as a simple organism. And that lack of complexity, as it happens, is its very appeal to certain “progressives,” garden-variety regulators and large Internet companies, who see in government regulation of the Internet opportunities to cement and extend their franchises.

The brave and gifted Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Ajit Pai, and former Commissioner Robert McDowell, are doing all they can to point out the many already identifiable problems, as well as potential pitfalls, that line the path of this regulatory nightmare. Among those problems are higher user fees to consumers, a slowdown in the rate of investment in broadband infrastructure, regulatory creep and the wrong kind of example to set before foreign dictators and tyrants.

Alas, none of this is likely to deter the three Democratic FCC commissioners, as instructed by the White House, from passing this regulation.

{mosads}What has not been much discussed in all of this is the role in the promotion of net neutrality played by some of the actors: activist groups like Free Press, Public Knowledge and Media Matters; huge grant-giving foundations like the Ford, Soros and Knight foundations; and companies like Google.

In part, this journalistic black hole can be explained by the fact that large numbers of tech journalists are themselves simple organisms, deeply in the know about bits and bytes and, literally, nothing else. But it’s also because net neutrality bathes in the sea of mumbo lingo that marks political commentary in our time.

This many decades after the demonstrated failures and cruelties of government programs around the world, the commentariat still swoon to such primitive constructs as the notion that business is bad and government good. As Mark Cuban recently put it, “Net neutrality is just a demonization of big companies.”

Actually, it’s a demonization of some big companies, but who’s counting? The fact is that, by arguing that Internet service providers (ISPs), left on their own, would put an end to the “free and open” Internet, groups with clear ideological missions ranging from the merely tiresome to the truly despicable are allowed to posture as friends of the little guy, now as always pointing to government as the “solution.”

So here’s a challenge to some of our fearless investigative reporters: Sometime after the FCC formally institutes net neutrality regs, but before the inevitable court rulings, how about taking an in-depth look at those people and organizations that engineered the thing?

One might, for instance, examine how these regulations will extend a lifeline to those so-called public interest organizations that’ve been desperately seeking relevancy in the digital age. Or how it happened that on June 12 of last year, the presidents of the Ford and Knight Foundations, in company with program officers of such organizations as George Soros’s Open Society Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, met personally with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to lobby for net neutrality.

For that matter, wouldn’t it be interesting to know how Netflix and YouTube, which together account for roughly half of the downstream traffic in the U.S., have largely managed to escape the characterization of their heavy lobbying for net neutrality as being that of vested interests?

It’s too soon to know the kind and number of ill effects that will plague the country in consequence of net neutrality regulations, but it’s way past time for an understanding of how those regulations came to be.

Maines is president of the Media Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes free speech, sound communications policies and journalistic excellence. The views expressed are those of Maines alone.

Tags Ajit Pai FCC Federal Communications Commission Net neutrality Open internet Robert McDowell

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