Wednesday, July 15, 2015
The FCC Is a Symbol for a Corrupt, Broken American Government
The FCC somehow publicly lost public comments on a petition they were mandated to create. It might not matter, anyway. Telecoms are outlobbying net neutrality advocates 3:1. That's all that matters in all of American government. But due to one provision, the FCC was at least forced to talk about it.
In April, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed a new rule that would allow for corporations to discriminate against certain kinds of speech on the web. By rule, the commission put the proposal up for public comment.
Yesterday, the FCC's website somehow lost public access to signatures and public comments for a petition to stop it.
Today, the commission said it was vowing to give those people a chance to file again.
The FCC is extending the deadline for initial public comments on Chairman Tom Wheeler's controversial net neutrality proposal because of trouble with the commission's online comment system, the agency announced Tuesday. The deadline was set for midnight.
The spokeswoman also politely asked everyone to "please be assured that the commission ... is committed to making sure that everyone trying to submit comments will have their views entered into the record."
The record — if they can keep the website up and running — will show that almost all of the comments are against the new rules, which shouldn't be a surprise. As former FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell pointed out today, consumers stand to gain nothing by having increased FCC oversight of the internet.
On the other end of the influence game, telecoms lobbying for the new rules are outspending their opponents 3 to 1. So you know they stand to gain something.
What does that mean? It means the FCC will have to take a side. Either it will allow Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon to discriminate traffic and speech based on their own private interests. Or it will say that this proposal ended up being wildly unpopular and not worth pushing through for the sake of that founding idea that this is a government doing things in Our Name.
Since Chairman Wheeler proposed the rule, however, and since money is power in Washington, we would be wise to prepare for the worst. Is Comcast feuding with Netflix? Under the new rules, Netflix speeds will be slower. Is a website publishing an unpopular opinion about Comcast's ties to the FCC—like a customer service call from Hell, or that its chief lobbyist used to be an FCC Commissioner? Fine, slow traffic to that website or its web host to a crawl.
Want assurances this won't happen? You can't have any. There is no law for it or provision for it, just Wheeler's word on it. Feel slightly better, until you remember that Wheeler is the former head of America's biggest telecom lobby.
You may want to switch providers in protest? It's likely you can't—the new Time Warner Cable/Comcast merger would account for 30 percent of cable and Internet subscribers in the U.S., for example—and it's also likely that help will not be on the way.
One question frequently comes out of this: Why are we supposed to care about this? Why does the Internet matter so much?
That's the issue: It doesn't. The speed of your Internet—as long as you're receiving it—doesn't really matter. That's not what matters. What matters is that there is a protected class at the top that has won immunity and permanent wealth and power by turning its influence into money and jobs and kickbacks and cheating the average consumer in the process. The Chairman of the FCC is the former head of the cable lobby. The head of lobbying at Comcast is a former FCC Commissioner.
America was invited to see the inner workings of how greed has taken over Washington very nearly by accident—an old bylaw mandates that the FCC hold a period for public comment that lasts at least 30 days. Now, the way government works is on display for everyone to see. The only difference between this case and all of the other ones that would be just as upsetting is that one procedural rule and the public's dissatisfaction with buffering on Netflix forced Americans to pay attention.
We stood up and screamed because we finally got to see, by mistake, the raw deal it was getting. Now we will find out if the untouchable America is too big and powerful to even hear them.
Note: The article initially reported a loss of a half-million public comments, as reported in this Reddit thread and corroborated by the Wayback Machine. The FCC says the comments were only lost from view publicly and temporarily in the Commission's blog post.