Trump’s net neutrality blunder is alarming for US foreign policy

Trump’s net neutrality blunder is alarming for US foreign policy
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It appears that no one with access to President TrumpDonald John TrumpAustralia recognizes West Jerusalem as Israeli capital, won't move embassy Mulvaney will stay on as White House budget chief Trump touts ruling against ObamaCare: ‘Mitch and Nancy’ should pass new health-care law MORE informed him that the death of net neutrality would reward the parent company of Saturday Night Live, Comcast. This is concerning because the United States needs advisors around President Trump who know and can inform the president when there is a comparatively harmless opportunity for him to hit back at his political opponents, so that he trusts his advisors when confronted with issues such as averting nuclear war with North Korea.

With the Federal Communications Commission’s final rule killing net neutrality published in the Federal Register, the largest cable companies, Comcast and Charter, are one step closer to receiving a financial windfall — not for inventing the next internet but for controlling access to the current one. The demise of net neutrality will allow cable companies to charge content providers legal ransom in exchange for not slowing down the delivery of videos and articles.

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To be fair, if the rule ultimately goes into effect, Comcast and Charter would not immediately charge outrageous sums to content providers, for fear of backlash; rather, they could increase fees and reduce speeds of competing media outlets strategically over time.

 

There are good reasons for Republicans to support net neutrality — e.g., it levels the playing field for start-ups against incumbents. There also are politically strategic reasons for Republicans to endorse net neutrality, since it does not allow for indirect censorship of political ideas. Numerous liberal media organizations are owned by major service providers, which will be able to favor their own content, while Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and other conservative media are noticeably not owned by a giant cable or wireless provider. If Republicans realized the importance of such disparity in vertical integration of service providers owning content providers, they surely would not support a policy position that hurts news outlets sympathetic to their party.

Notwithstanding philosophical and politically strategic justifications, there are personal reasons why Trump, in particular, should favor net neutrality, given his antagonistic relationship to Saturday Night Live — a show that employed a writer who insulted his young son — and his hate-affair with CNN. It might seem like pointing this out to the president would be a matter of encouraging the worst of him instead of playing to his better instincts. It is. Yet let us not forget a variation on Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz’s famous quip: politics is the continuation of war by other means.

If no one informed Trump that Comcast, the largest cable provider and owner of MSNBC and SNL, and Charter, the second largest cable company and owner of CNN, would benefit from the demise of net neutrality, then that is a worrying sign for national security. It means that either President Trump’s advisors do not understand the subtleties and political reality of policymaking, or they are keeping the president in the dark, perhaps for their own political advantage, for the presumed benefit of the public, or to avoid suffering his wrath. This has happened before. For example, after Harry Truman was thrust into the presidency with the death of Franklin Roosevelt, his advisors took almost two weeks after he was sworn in to brief him on the U.S. atomic bomb program during the height of World War II.  

Putting aside the ethical question of whether Trump should have prevented the FCC from voting to dismantle net neutrality in order to revenge himself on a media company and the administrative consideration of how much oversight an executive has over an independent agency, there are times when a president’s closest advisors need to show their loyalty to the president to allow him to decide if he wants to extract a pound of flesh so that he trusts them with more existential threats. To give maximum leverage to the senior military and national security advisors to prevent mutually assured destruction, or at least devastation against masses, they need to be supported by Trump’s advisors in every other public policy area.

All presidents are managed to a certain extent. Such handling should be welcome by executives, assuming they can trust their advisors. Filling the vacant high-level policy positions within the executive branch with a mix of advisors with varying degrees of political experience is a good first step. This is a fix that lobbyists allegedly have been resistant to, given that a void enables them to push through policy that sometimes harms the political party in charge.

President Trump needs to end his isolation that puts the country at peril and allows “fake news” media executives to sip champagne at his expense.

Martin Skladany is an assistant professor of intellectual property, Internet law, and law & international development at Penn State Dickinson Law. He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Big Copyright Versus the People: How Major Content Providers are Destroying Creativity and How to Stop Them” (Cambridge University Press, 2018).