I was looking forward to today at CES. The Acting Commish of the FTC, Maureen Ohlhausen, was to be interviewed by the CEO of CTA, Gary Shapiro. Three of the FCC Commissioners of the FCC, Brendan Carr, Mignon Clyburn and Michael O’Rielly were scheduled to participate in a roundtable moderated by Julie Kearney, VP of regulatory affairs for CTA. Ajit Pai was supposed to be here but was a no show.
CTA is the largest consumer tech association. CES is one of the most well attended tech conference in the world. What’s the hottest topic in tech these days: the overturning of net neutrality. I thought at least we will get some insight on the pros and cons of this issue by those most directly involved in the decision. Wrong. Instead we got abbreviated wave to and acknowledgment of the issue and a recitation of slogans with little real explanation.
The first session of the day the interview of Ohlhausen by Shapiro. He started the interview with a long monologue about how the issue was nuanced. And then he said the issue is really nuanced. Really really nuanced. Did he say it was nuanced?
And, he said, people didn’t play nice in their discussions about it. Ohlhausen then said the FTC was there to promote competition and protect consumers. And that getting access to the internet for consumers was important. She wanted us all to know that with the FCC new order ISP’s had to be transparent and provide information about what they were doing. If they don’t, she said with a smile, the FTC will bring an enforcement action. So I guess as long as the ISP says you’re screwed, then you are.
So I guess as long as the ISP says you’re screwed, then you are.
Then Shapiro asked rhetorically, well if there was a choice between safety and health issues and someone downloading a movie on netflix, shouldn’t the safety and health issue have Internet priority? Of course, Ohlhausen agreed. Duh. (Sort of a strange question in a conference where the dominant discussion is the future of the data and the interest with 5K networks). End of discussion. Took every bit of 10 minutes.
The roundtable was not much better. Kearney started the discussion by saying lets talk about the elephant in the room and then asked the Commissioners for comments. Clyburn went first. She opposed the overturning of net neutrality because it would hurt innovation and investment and universal internet service should be mandated. Ok, sounds good. Why? Don’t know.
Rielly, who also opposed the overturning, then chimed in. Courts and Congress will look at the change and who knows what they will do. OK but what about the decision itself. Why did he vote against the proposed Order? We don’t know.
Then Carr weighed in. Carr voted in favor of the new Rule because he says we have problem. He thought the prior Rule had led to decreased investment. Ok. Why? We don’t know.
The Commissioners all went out of their way to tell us how much they respected each other and how they all deplored the commentary about the changes that occurred. That it was way over the line. And yes some of it was.
Both sides say their view will encourage innovation and investment. They can’t both be right.
But I wonder. Why can’t anybody with authority publicly tell us why they think their decision is the right one? Both sides say their view will encourage innovation and investment. They can’t both be right. Why can’t we hear more about the basis for their opinions, especially at the world largest tech show? And if the issue is really as nuanced as Shapiro says, why was the vote strictly along party lines?
Net neutrality is a critical issue. It deserves a full public airing. It deserves our public officials being asked hard questions. Not because we are assholes but because its important and we deserve answers. We deserve a Commission that doesn’t ignore thousands of comments from those who oppose it or favor it but instead addresses them. We deserve a Commission that doesn’t decide the question solely on whose political party the individual Commisioners belong to or, for that matter, who they might be beholden to. But instead based on the facts. I’m disappointed CTA didn’t force a full airing of the issues when it had the chance.
I can appreciate its a nuanced issue. I just wish someone would tell me why.