McAdams On: Hitting the Wrong Notes

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s intention to re-reclassify broadband as an information service rather than a utility is not going so well. The net neutrality camp is going ballistic. The FCC’s docket to roll back the reclassification had more than 1.6 million comments within 19 days of opening, spurred ostensibly by a screed delivered by a late-night TV host, HBO’s John Oliver.

During what may have been a cathartic lapse in judgment, the chairman decided to read his own “mean tweets,” about network neutrality, like a celebrity reading insults on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” The problem is, the chairman is not a celebrity on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” He’s a public official mocking private citizens.

What can possibly go wrong with that? After all, despite the most valiant efforts of our first-grade teachers, mocking is now the currency of our national discourse.

Be that as it may, many people consider network neutrality along the lines of a civil right, where internet service providers are not allowed to control the flow of content the way Google, Facebook and Macedonian hackers do, for example.

But Chairman Pai is about deregulation. The argument for deregulation here is the same as it is in all instances—investment. You put too many conditions on a business and no one will invest in it. Broadband is beheld as an antidote to a sluggish economy, especially in areas abandoned by manufacturing, because people who work with their hands will naturally gravitate toward coding. So, from a doctrinaire perspective, ISPs must be supported at all costs (unless they are municipalities trying to support local school districts and fire departments).

Regardless of whether or not network neutrality makes any technical sense, is beside the point. The mere fact that such a thing exists screams to the paucity of options, and no matter what the FCC does, the price of middling broadband will continue to escalate.