This article continues Obamanet vs. Net Neutrality, published in the American Thinker. It is about how Obamanet (incorrectly called net neutrality) all but destroyed the freedom of press. The new FCC, chaired by Ajit Pai, voted to repeal and replace it. The repealing order has not been published yet, but already encounters fierce resistance. Thus, we will live under Obamanet for months or years. It is important to understand it in depth, because it is much worse than thought even by conservatives.
The announcement that the FCC would regulate the internet under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act caused righteous outrage (for example: Like Obamacare? You Will Love ObamaNet, NRO, February 2015). The full text was published weeks later and probably went unnoticed. It’s a pity because saddling the internet with antiquated regulations was peanuts compared to its other effects:
- Obamanet regulates not only internet service providers but every person and organization which happens to provide internet access. That includes persons who need to provide such access as a medium for their speech. This is the subject of this article.
- Obamanet doesn’t make a distinction between the ISP’s choice of content that’s accessible by the user and the user’s choice, and it bans both. It promises to allow the ISP’s choice if it’s in the “public’s interest.”
- Cable companies and Google Fiber have apparently benefited from Obamanet prohibiting ISPs from effective network management, because they have more raw bandwidth than their competitors. This decrease in competition is used as an excuse for more aggressive regulation.
- Obamanet explicitly says that each internet user must pay for the delivery of all content from all content providers to all other users, even content which is against the user’s religious beliefs and political views.
Obamanet & “Media Reform Movement”
A far-left “media reform movement” has been riding net neutrality since at least 2008. The media reform for which it advocated was a centralized, single-payer (like in early versions of Obamacare), “people owned” media, as opposite to the constitutional freedom of speech that creates private media. Obama appointed media reform activists to the FCC. Soon, Marxist outfits like Free Press became central to Obama administration’s internet regulation attempts. In 2009, Free Press co-founder Robert McChesney celebrated with Obama’s notorious pastor Jeremiah Wright. A milder version of Obamanet ordered in 2010 was overturned in court four years later. The key parts of the 2015 Obamanet order were written by far-left activists, possibly together with Google’s Eric Schmidt. Even Obama-appointed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler refused to support it until the activists met with Obama and Obama ordered him directly to do so. Obamanet achieved almost all anti-Constitutional media reform goals: it made citizens pay for content they did not want in a tax-like manner, empowered left-liberal Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Wikimedia Foundation to become an internet censor, and nearly silenced all but left/liberal voices.
Decay of the Old Media Business Model
Almost everybody in the “old” media complains that the internet has destroyed their business model because very few people purchase subscriptions and the ads alone cannot sustain publications. Many people of different political persuasions decry the low quality of internet content, from Wikipedia to blogs and social media. Complains about fake news are regular and sound funny when uttered by the biggest fake news purveyors. But the cause might be not so much the internet, but Obamanet.
From colonial times, the freedom of press looked as follows. Reporters reported, writers wrote, and publishers printed and sold books, magazines, and newspapers to willing buyers. The revenues paid for paper, ink, a printing press, and delivery, and the rest was split between authors and publishers. Later, music recording and film industries emerged and worked similarly: studios sold music records and movie tickets to listeners or visitors.
Why didn’t this model work on the internet? In the 1990s, the internet was used mostly for activities that didn’t exist without internet: emails, instant messaging, browsing websites, etc. In the first decade of this century the internet started replacing physical facilities and products. For example, newspapers circulation has fallen sharply since 2003. When established newspapers moved to the internet they found out that ads deliver only a small fraction of subscription revenues. Attempts to move subscribers to digital subscriptions (like one introduced by The NY Times in 2011) mostly failed. People derided digital subscriptions as paywalls. Did the business model of free press fail on the internet? No, it did not. It was banned by the FCC regulations under the Obama administration.
A newspaper publisher could sell a subscription to a willing buyer because the buyer paid only for the newspaper to which he subscribed. If a government ordered the reading public to share the costs of physically printing and delivering all newspapers, and forced publishers to charge separately for the content, it would be the end of the press. No decent publishing business could survive such a regime. Tabloids with worthless content and periodicals receiving kickbacks for supposed editorial content would thrive. But honest, high-quality, non-partisan publications would not be economically viable because tabloids and smear sheets would consume most of the “reading budgets” of their potential customers while fulfilling to some extent their interest. Tabloids would also saturate the market making it hard to even find high-quality publications. Search services that help readers find valuable bits in a sea of trash would become huge businesses. The newspaper market would be dominated by fake news, underhanded smear, and polarizing party press. Does that look vaguely familiar?
Obamanet is the internet equivalent of the described “regulation”. Every internet user is forced to share expenses of physical distribution of all content pushed by all publishers to all other users. Obamanet explicitly prohibits authors and publishers from selling content to readers or viewers over the internet without subsidizing all other content. In other words, Obamanet demands a user who wants to read his favorite newspaper (or few websites of choice) on the internet to pay an internet service provider for delivery of all movies, videos, and junk dumped on the internet by all content providers from all corners of the world. At a typical cost of $60-$80 per month, the internet access costs like a decent cable TV package together with a delivery subscription for The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. It’s only natural that the users are reluctant to pay for digital editions of newspapers on top of their ISP fees. Especially when those have competition from free fake news, Fakepedia, and heavily sponsored leftist propaganda. The users of the most popular resources, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia, probably give them extra trust because they are perceived as paid services.
The Obamanet order explicitly states that third party content and app providers have the same rights to use the ISP as its paying customers. Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Netflix and other left-coast corporations use these “rights” to become huge because they pocket most of the money that we pay ISPs to view our favorite websites. And the website publishers receive nothing.
An Alternative Subscription Model?
If not for Obamanet, any newspaper, magazine, or publishing house would be able to provide its readers with digital subscription bundled with internet access and allow the subscriber to use the remaining internet bandwidth as he wishes. Established papers such as The Wall Street Journal would have been able to gradually migrate their paper subscribers base to digital subscription.
Even more practical than subscription to individual publications would be channels delivering multiple resources. One channel might include multiple subscriber-only publications, ad-free versions of the American Thinker and other ad-supported websites, Britannica or another decent encyclopedia, a search engine optimized for this channel content and competing against Google, and a lot more. A channel like this would have very low bandwidth requirements and could use very inexpensive internet connection. Most subscription fees would be split among the publishers. Unlike cable TV monopolies, there are many actual and potential internet service providers in each area. If The New York Times, Washington Post, Time, and other once respectable liberal publications had not gone along with the power abuses by the Obama administration, and instead defended the freedom of press, they wouldn’t have become fake news outlets.
Net neutrality means that plain internet access, when a person buys it from an ISP, includes access to all the internet for all applications and devices the buyer decides to use. Most importantly, the ISP can’t decide to block or discriminate against traffic based on the content and its source or destination, unless requested by the user. Net neutrality does not limit the user’s choice, such as a choice to have a filtered family-friendly internet. Net neutrality does not prevent a user to buy internet content, rather than internet access. The described channels model fully complies with the net neutrality principle, unlike the Obamanet order. Reader beware that Wikipedia and other leftist outlets describe net neutrality incorrectly.
Obamanet and Silencing Dissent
Obamanet has contributed to the almost total suppression of all but left/liberal speech on the internet. Although this statement looks like a self-contradiction, it isn’t. Speech on the internet isn’t suppressed by a ban — which is practically impossible — but by burying it deep behind other content. This is how internet censorship works in China, according to sources. And Google’s Eric Schmidt said at least once: “take it off the page…make it harder to find“. I am sure that Google will do its best (or worst) to take this article off the page for relevant searches. And Google search users won’t even know about it.
Let us not to forget that the internet does not supplement other mediums, as happened with radio and then television. The internet replaces them. For many people, the internet has already replaced newspapers, magazines, books, radio and TV news. The internet influences other media types more than they influence the internet. Suppression of speech on the internet quickly expands to other media.
Obamanet should be viewed in the broader context of the persecution of dissent by the Democratic Party, captured by hard left. One might suspect that the Democratic Party and its accomplices attempted to obliterate the Constitution and to establish a one-party system. The hysterical reaction to the victory of the opposition and their stubborn refusal to accept the results of the elections almost a year after the inauguration of President Trump do nothing to alleviate such suspicion.