Congratulations to those who clamored for Net Neutrality. You’ve helped hand control of the internet to a federal agency that, just a few years ago, went absolutely batshit over TV showing less than a second of a forty-five-year-old nipple. Gee, if you only had the foresight to do that in 1995, today we’d have a much smaller, cleaner internet that we’d be accessing with 100k baud dial-up modems.
And it’s all because one multi-billion dollar company we love had a spat with a different multi-billion dollar company we despise. Netflix was sucking down 34% of Comcast’s bandwidth during prime time. Comcast demanded payment, Netflix flipped them off, so Comcast started throttling their signal. The two companies battled and bartered and came to an agreement, which is what companies do, but that provided the impetus to espouse Net Neutrality, a nice sounding phrase that let the government get their nose into the internet tent.
Rather than create a regulation that simply forbid throttling, the FCC used this as an opportunity to expand their tentacles deep into the net. Their regulations are in a 332 page book that, as of this writing, has not been made available to the public. I bet it’s just full of freedom.
About a hundred years ago, radio became available to the public. The first stations were licensed by the Department of Commerce. Civilian use of radio was shut down during WWI, ostensibly so the government could use it for the military.
In 1917 Lee De Forest set up a station in New York that broadcast music and news, only to be shut down by the government which declared “there is no place on the ether for entertainment.” Lee moved to San Francisco and started a new radio station in 1918.
The number of stations exploded, and the spectrum was gloriously chaotic. Pretty much anyone could get a license and broadcast whatever they wanted to. Radio became so popular that broadcasters were stepping on each other’s frequencies, so in 1927 the Federal Radio Commission was formed. Instead of just dealing with the problem of interfering frequencies, they declared all stations had to act in the public interest. The name was changed to the Federal Communications Commission in 1934. They weren’t just going to control radio; they were going to control all communications.
As stations proliferated, some became more successful than others. Some banded together into networks, to syndicate content. The FCC broke up some networks, and allowed others to remain intact, essentially picking the winners and losers. Throughout this time, they also regulated content.
When TV came along, they started licensing that, also regulating content. It was essentially illegal to even show a double bed in a married couple’s bedroom. Breaking any of their rules resulted in huge fines and the threat that the station would lose their license.
The Fairness Doctrine required stations to offer equal time to opposing views. Rather than time every opinion or political piece with a stopwatch and carefully doling out equal air time to opposing views, for free, radio simply avoided any controversy. As a result, talk radio consisted of dull shows about gardening and cooking. This changed in 1969, with the Red Lion case, when the Supremes recognized that the first amendment (the one amendment they seem to like and understand) should apply to radio (but not too much). Conservatives, who had been ignored by the mainstream media of the day, seized the opportunity and created talk radio that expressed right, and often far-right, viewpoints. The left is still pissed about this, and some lefties still advocate for a return to the fairness doctrine. They’ve never been fond of free speech.
The FCC continued, and still continues, to regulate content on broadcast radio and TV. Fortunately, their attempts to regulate cable content were defeated. Imagine if they had succeeded. We’d have never seen The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Breaking Bad, or any of the other groundbreaking shows that have flourished on cable, out of their reach.
In a free country, anyone could start a radio station as long as it didn’t interfere with someone else’s station, or nearby electronics. But in the US, licensing and regulations make starting a station prohibitively expensive, creating a huge barrier to entry that guarantees existing stations are spared the trouble of actual competition. When you lament how lame radio has become, be sure to thank the FCC.
NN supporters brush aside the immutable Law of Unintended Consequences while endlessly spewig unlikely scenarios that haven’t happened as the reason we need Big Brother to step in. The idea that we shouldn’t fix things that aren’t broken has never appealed to them – their statist mindset and nanny nature compels them to clamor for government to run in and protect them from every imaginary danger. And now they’re getting their way.
Having a hugely powerful, unelected government agency slapping down regulations is going be a disaster. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of our lives. Given their history of censorship and stalling innovation, we can only guess what horrors are in store for us.
But not for that multi-billion dollar company you like. They’ll do just fine.