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Wheeler, Franken, and Wyden show a naivete about today’s internet

In an opinion piece published yesterday in The Washington Post, Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and former Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler made the argument that planned attempts by current FCC chair Ajit Pai to remove Title II net neutrality rules would have a negative impact on consumers. The three argue that deep pocketed broadband access providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon want to take away the consumer protections that Title II of the Communications Act provides. Since broadband was reclassified as a telecommunications service by a Democratic weighted FCC under Mr Wheeler’s tenure, the privacy protections afforded to customer proprietary information connected to telecommunications customers would be lost to broadband consumers. The three go as far as to argue that net neutrality has created jobs because smaller retailers and other consumer services providers are able to get their products and services in front of the eyeballs of the everyday consumer because their traffic is now being treated fairly.

Given that there are two lawmakers authoring this piece I figured that they would at least offer an amendment to the Communications Act that defines net neutrality thus giving policy makers some firm platform from which to proceed and make good policy. The piece conveniently lacked that. Instead, Messrs Wheeler, Franken, and Wyden stuck with the lofty, airy definition of net neutrality that gives the impression that democracy is under attack. This is how the Democrats were able to scare four million consumers into putting their concerns onto postcards while blocking Mr Wheeler’s driveway.

What the opinion piece fails to explain is that net neutrality has to be defined in the context of commercialism, not as an assault on democracy. The internet has been commercialized for a quarter of a century. It provides the platform for gathering, processing, and selling information. Broadband companies are seeking out other revenue streams including processing and leveraging data for the purpose of generating advertisement revenues. Internet portals such as Google, Yahoo, and Facebook have been using customer information to attract advertisers. I sometimes refer to these sights as “legal hackers.” They get consumers to give up personal information for free and craft advertisements based on the personal information they garner. Ironically, Messrs Wheeler, Wyden and Franklin don’t discuss this disparity in treatment; that broadband providers who collect less personal information than these portals should find themselves under more statutory scrutiny than Facebook.

So dismissive of the market aspect of the internet that Messrs Wyden, Franken, and Wheeler could not even offer up a market solution for protecting consumer privacy. One solution I recommend is allowing consumers to sell their proprietary information, allowing them to trade on their info for cash or some other in-kind offering. Instead, Messrs Wheeler, Wyden, and Franken prefer stick with the “Government is a benevolent God” business model of consumer protection, usurping the individual’s power to use the markets to satisfy their own self interests.

Democracy is about the freedom of residents to choose leaders. That term has been tossed about too much by the net neutrality posse to the point where it is near meaningless. Net neutrality is not about democracy. Ron Wyden, Al Franken, and Tom Wheeler should do better than just stirring up the pot.

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Stop more taxes on cell phones

Posted October 29th, 2011 in Broadband, Congress, wireless communications and tagged , , , by Alton Drew

States and localities are hard up for money. The budget squeeze has them looking everywhere for additional revenue. Telephone service has always been a target. Why? Simple. We like to talk, and our penchant to chat, our human need for communication, and latent urge to do an impersonation of our favorite Star Trek character talking into a communications device probably means that we are too insensitive to additional taxes passed on to us in the form of higher prices.

Congress is in “no more taxes” mode, at least when it comes to mobile services. Two Democrats have introduced legislation to prohibit any new taxes on wireless services.

Yes, I said prohibit new taxes and Democrats in one sentence.

U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, and Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, issued companion bills(HR 1002 and S.543, respectively)  that place a five-year moratorium on new taxes on mobile devices.

The reasoning is sound: Congress should prevent states and localities from discriminating against service providers in various states. Over two hundred congressmen sponsored Ms. Lofgren’s bill, while Mr. Wyden has 12 cosponsors for his bill.

Additional taxes would also make broadband look even more expensive in the eyes of minority consumers.

While the House is ready to vote on Ms. Lofgren’s bill, Mr. Wyden’s bill is sitting in the Senate Finance committee. In addition, the Senate does not appear to have a hearing scheduled on S. 543 anytime in the near future.

The question I need to have answered is how do the States and their localities view Congress’ attempt at trying to turn off the last drip of the faucet ?