Federal Communications Commission
At the Consumer Electronic Show two weeks ago, Netflix announced that it would block consumer access to high definition and 3D movies (HD) for customers of Internet service providers (ISPs) that Netflix disfavors. Netflix’s goal is to coerce ISPs into paying for a free Internet fast lane for Netflix content. If Netflix succeeds, it would harm Internet consumers and competition among video streaming providers. It would also fundamentally alter the economics and openness of the Internet, “where consumers make their own choices about what applications and services to use and are free to decide what content they want to access, create, or share with others.”
Ironically, Netflix’s strategy is a variant of the doomsday narrative spun by net neutrality activists over the last decade. Their narrative assumes ISPs will use their gatekeeper control to block their customers from accessing Internet content distributed by competitors. Of course, ISPs have never blocked consumer access to competitive Internet content. Now that the FCC has distorted the Internet marketplace through the adoption of asymmetric net neutrality rules, Netflix, the dominant streaming video provider, has decided to block consumer access to its content.
President Barack Obama has frequently claimed that he has no lobbyists working in his administration. But that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. In fact, the Obama Administration is filled with lobbyists. And with the appointment of Tom Wheeler to head the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the communications and technology industries, it’s about to get another one.
Over at Reason, Peter Suderman explains that Wheeler, who will replace outgoing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, was a top bundler for both of Obama’s presidential campaigns and he appears to have interest in seeing the role of the FCC expanded, which isn’t a good sign:
I haven’t heard yet that SCOTUS has ruled on Obamacare, but in a bit of good news, the Federal Communications Commission can no longer fine broadcasters for obscenities and nudity:
The US Supreme Court has prohibited the FCC from imposing fines and sanctions for spoken obscenities and nudity on television in a ruling today. While the court didn’t tackle the constitutional validity of the FCC’s authority to set indecency rules, its decision shows that it has begun to back away from policies that were implemented prior to the ubiquity of media over the internet. Broadcast networks work under a set of indecency rules no internet outlet is required to consider because they use scarce public spectrum, and prior to today’s ruling, they faced severe penalties for airing curse words or nudity that violated the FCC’s policy.
This doesn’t mean that broadcasters will start worshipping at the feat of St. Carlin and drop f-bombs left and right, After all, they still have an audience to maintain, and many audiences frown on vulgarities and nudity (or at least, its inappropriate for said audience. Like many of my fellow United Liberty contributors. [Stop picking on Doug. - Editor]
Even so, despite whatever the hell Middleborough, Massachusetts thinks, there is absolutely no role for government to keep our mouths clean. Free speech, after all, is free speech, even if you don’t like it. And besides, when you consider that most youth can easily get porn and whatever on the Internet for free—yeah, your “parental controls” don’t really mean anything, because your kid knows about about hacking then you know about word processing, in all likelihood—the fines are sort of irrelevant.
“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” - John F. Kennedy
While the Left will no doubt endlessly whine about this, the FCC has finally done away with the Fairness Doctrine, a policy that was entirely inconsistent with the right to free speech:
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski announced the elimination of 83 outdated and obsolete agency rules on Monday, including the controversial Fairness Doctrine.
“The elimination of the obsolete Fairness Doctrine regulations will remove an unnecessary distraction. As I have said, striking this from our books ensures there can be no mistake that what has long been a dead letter remains dead,” Genachowski said in a statement.
“The Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas and was properly abandoned over two decades ago. I am pleased we are removing these and other obsolete rules from our books.”
The rule required broadcasters to cover controversial issues in a manner deemed fair and balanced by the FCC. The commission deemed it unconstitutional in 1987 and ceased enforcement.
More than half of likely voters don’t want the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate the Web as it does radio and television, according to a survey from Rasmussen Reports.
Fifty-four percent of likely voters oppose such regulation, while just 21 percent support it, according to the survey of likely voters taken just after the FCC last week approved Chairman Julius Genachowski’s plan to prevent discrimination by Internet service providers against certain websites or applications.
Genachowski’s plan has drawn heated criticism from both the left and right, with Republicans vowing to overturn the regulations during the next Congress.
Republicans and independents overwhelmingly oppose the regulations, according to the survey, while Democrats are more divided. Survey respondents who are heavy Internet users are the most opposed to the FCC’s approach, the survey found.
Basically, what the FCC passed would allow the government to control how ISPs sell their services to customers and prevent them from blocking content from other competing companies. In case you haven’t figured it out, it’s an answer in search of a problem.
To learn more about Net Neutrality, check out this primer posted here last year or check out the video put together by Reason TV:
The First Amendment has taken some hits this week. Sen. Joe Lieberman is hinting that The New York Times may have violated the law for reporting the news in relation release of documents by WikiLeaks (by the way, Joe, you can’t charge someone who isn’t an American for treason). And now there are reports that the FCC is concocting a plan to regulate the news:
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) pushed back on Monday against a contention by a Democratic FCC commissioner that the government should create new regulations to promote diversity in news programming.
Barton was reacting to a proposal made last week by FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who in a speech suggested that broadcasters be subject to a new “public values test” every four years.
“I hope … that you do not mean to suggest that it is the job of the federal government, through the [FCC], to determine the content that is available for Americans to consume,” Barton wrote Monday in a letter to Copps.
Copps had suggested that the test would make a broadcaster’s license renewal contingent upon proof that they meet a prospective set of federal criteria.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) isn’t a fan of free speech. During hearing on Wednesday, the senior Senator from West Virginia called for the FCC to shut down Fox News and MSNBC; in part because it would make life easier for members of Congress:
Despite his rant, as Doug Mataconis points out, the FCC has no power to take these networks off the air.
I don’t watch the news anymore. I get everything off the web these days. However, the First Amendment protects the right to free speech. And whether you like Fox News or MSNBC or not, they serve as an integral part of our system, continuing a tradition that has literally been around since the foundation of our nation.
Out in California, the Fair Political Practices Commission is looking at regulating new platforms for political speech, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, even text messaging:
It’s become necessary as politicians in California and elsewhere announce their candidacies and major campaign policies through Twitter, YouTube and a host of social networking sites, said FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur.
He said California’s 36-year-old Political Reform Act needs rewriting to keep up with the times.
“Our goal here is to meet the new challenges of 21st Century technology,” Schnur said. “There’s no way that the authors of the act could have anticipated that these of types of communicating a campaign message would ever exist.”
To paraphrase Chief Justice John Roberts, this is why we don’t leave our free speech rights in the hands of FPPC bureaucrats. To bureaucrats like those at the FPPC, the Federal Election Commission or their analogues, there seems to be no need to show any evidence that Twitter, Facebook or text messages actually pose any threat to the public. It is enough that they these new forms of low-cost media aren’t currently regulated, but could be. Their primary concern, apparently, is that the regulation of political speech be as comprehensive as possible.
Instead of letting the market determine which news sources will survive, some groups are asking the speech gestapo FCC to monitor speech on the internet, television and radio:
A coalition of more than 30 organizations argue in a letter to the FCC that the Internet has made it harder for the public to separate the facts from bigotry masquerading as news.
The groups also charge that syndicated radio and cable television programs “masquerading as news” use hate as a profit model.
“As traditional media have become less diverse and less competitive, they have also grown less responsible and less responsive to the communities that they are supposed to serve,” the organizations wrote to the FCC. “In this same atmosphere hate speech thrives, as hate has developed as a profit-model for syndicated radio and cable television program masquerading as ‘news.’”
The organizations, which include Free Press, the Center for Media Justice, the Benton Foundation and Media Alliance, also argue that the anonymity of the Web gives ammunition to those that would spread hate.
My copy of the Bill of Rights says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.