Net neutrality: Good politics is about manipulating reality

Democracy gets too much credit as a platform for openness and equity. It operates efficiently by being the opposite: as a platform for manipulating reality by manipulating consensus. American society is under the mistaken belief that facts create reality. I would go further and say that Americans are confused as to the definition of the word “facts.” Engaged in an argument with the average bloke about politics and he will offer as fact his assertions based on what he perceives his surroundings to be as supported by something Joy Ann Reid or Sean Hannity said. That a fact should be measured and its existence corroborated would make his head spin. Measurement and corroboration require too much work and it is much easier to rely on feelings.

There is nothing wrong with feelings and perception per se as navigation tools for moving through life as an individual. As I get older I find myself increasingly comfortable with “going with the flow” of the day, an argument, an event. Being too linear in thinking for my personal daily life is restricting, cuts off the blood flow, creating an uptightness that drives my teenager crazy sometimes.  Sometimes you just have to say, “fuck it.”

But can a society take that attitude? I have some reservations at to what a society is purposed for but will share them some other time. For now, let us stick with a standard definition of what a society is, an organized group with some interest in common or group of persons forming a single community. While as individuals our daily rules of living may differ; you may choose to stay linear, I may choose the flow. A society, if it is to stay, by definition, cohesive must follow some standard that should be followed by everyone. It is a standard arrived at via some political mechanisms and agreed upon by consensus. The agreed upon standard is basis for the political, legal, and economic reality of the community.  Manipulate the consensus and you manipulate the reality.

Take for example the issue of net neutrality. Net neutrality is a set of principles that provide for transparency in the management of broadband networks, calls for equal treatment of all traffic flowing from all websites, and ensures that consumers are able to access the legal content of any website they choose to visit. In short, net neutrality guarantees an open and democratized internet experience.  Over the past fifteen years, ever since the inception of the concept via a paper written by a law professor, net neutrality has become for millions of Americans their internet reality.

Net neutrality is an example of manipulated consensus creating a new reality. Prior to 2003, there was no “net neutrality” concept. All traffic could not, and today arguably cannot, be treated the same. Latency, speed, and bandwidth requirements differ between types of content. Video form RealNetworks in the year 2000 used more bandwidth than an email. Remember your buffering issues? In 2018 while the buffering problems have been adequately addressed to the point where we can watch a two-hour movie on our laptops, a video still uses more bandwidth than email.  But why and how did the new consensus come about, that all traffic should be treated equally, even in the face of facts regarding network management?

First the why. In the early 1990s, alternative network providers, including cable television companies, offered services where they would take a business customer’s calling traffic, route it around a telephone company’s network, and deliver the traffic to the customer’s designated location. This was called bypass.   As revenues and profits increased and technology improved, these companies started their own local telephone networks competing for residential as well as business traffic. In these early local telephone competition days, the traffic that new entrants handed off to incumbent telephone companies was less than the traffic the new entrants received from incumbents. Instead of paying each other for the traffic they exchanged, they decided to merely keep the revenues they received from their own subscribers.

Competitors became increasingly successful and given the increased traffic they provided to the incumbents, the incumbents decided to start pursuing payments. New entrants including fledgling new content providers wanted to maintain the neutrality of payments i.e. no payment exchange, meaning that traffic should continue to be treated with neutrality. This was the beginning of the net neutrality argument.

Now, the how. Politics is about marketing to vote providers and behind good marketing is good communications. First, you make a legal and regulatory argument that neutral exchange of traffic is good policy and should be set in rule. Second, you approach regulators and the courts with this principle and try to convince them as to the feasibility, efficacy, and legality of such a rule. Lastly, to secure the rule once it has been passed, or to gain more support should the rule face roadblocks, you enlist an ignorant public with a narrative that net neutrality is about “open networks” and “freedom on the internet.” Get 4 million signatures on post cards mailed to the Federal Communications Commission and get John Oliver to go on television and skip 20 years of telecommunications history and you can change consensus on what net neutrality is really about.

So far, the efforts have put net neutrality on the political radar.  Efforts by the Federal Communications Commission to remove net neutrality rules from the books are being met in court by proponents for net neutrality rules. How it plays out, I don’t know. I do know that good politics is about effective manipulation of consensus and consensus creates the reality of net neutrality.

The Russian attack on democracy was ineffective because they don’t understand democracy.

American democracy is about the creation of a political marketplace where the taxpayer receives certain protective services in exchange for her vote. These services include police services, fire services, transportation services, commercial trade platforms, cultural services, legal and regulatory frameworks, and education services, to name a few. They are delivered by local, state, and federal governments and their costs are recovered by government in the form of property, sales, and income taxes and other fees.

Politicians squabble before, during, and after the election season on how best these services should be delivered, how much the government should pay to deliver them, and how much of the bill the taxpayer should foot for the government’s efforts. Classical liberal, progressive, and conservative philosophies collide during these debates and the clash of perspective is most apparent during election season when more people are paying attention. To secure the majority of voter approval for position and philosophy, politicians engage in the blood sport of electioneering, a blood sport that includes embellishments, character assassinations, and a lot of misinformation.

Reports abound of how a Russian firm, the Internet Research Agency, entered the political fray between 2014 and 2016 and used social media posts, tweets, and blogs to upset the elections. Their activity during an election year would have been business as usual were it not for their status as foreign agents conducting these activities. Whether or not they upset the political markets with their activity will be hard to determine.

For example, will investigators be able to say that the cost of the exchange of the vote for services increased due to Russian interference? I see no data that describes politicians seeking higher taxes for government spending as a result of any information provided by Russian trolls.

Did any information introduced into the political markets by the Internet Research Agency cause voters to leave the market? I have heard one argument that black voter participation fell because of Russian disinformation about Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton has drawn the ire of some blacks as a result of her description of black teenagers as “predators” and her Clinton Foundation taking financial advantage of earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. It is questionable whether any additional misinformation by the Russians could have created any further negative view of Mrs Clinton by blacks. She may have done enough on her own.

American democracy bases societal cohesion on the vote, the ability of the masses to elect its leaders. Leaders promise, as I laid out before, protective services. But what would happen to the democratically-based cohesion if the dependence of Americans on protective services were drastically reduced or eliminated? What if more Americans had 3-D printers and could manufacture their own tools or furniture? What if more Americans grew their own vegetables in their own apartments? What if more Americans were able to take advantage of devices that use unlicensed spectrum in order to form their own local communications networks and reduce their communications expenses? What if more Americans used solar or wind to energize their homes? What if engineers could design apartment buildings such that each unit could take advantage of solar energy?

A true attack on American democracy would be a demonstration of how to live independent of the political elites that thrive on the electorate’s unwillingness to be or ignorance of independence. Whether a democracy or an authoritarian regime, nation-states are about centralizing power. When they attack each other, destroying the core is all that is needed for the knockout punch. Given the Russian Federation’s history of allowing true freedom, an attack on democracy based on independent sovereignty would be thinking way outside the box.

No, American democracy was never really attacked by the Russians. It simply got poked by a player who didn’t have the legal credentials to enter the ring.

 

Net neutrality rules proceeded from a no value premise

Back in the early 1990s, a higher value was placed by the consumer on her use of the internet and the dial-up services that were used to access it. It was expensive paying either per use or per minute or hour or day depending on your AOL package. The analog telephone service sometime required additional toll fees to access online providers. You didn’t take for granted your time used to access or be online. You made a cost=benefit analysis regarding the time online and paid for the value of the information you retrieved.

Our perspective on value for being online has changed. We have gone from waiting till after 9 pm or weekends to make a long distance call in order to save on toll fees to having bundled wire or wireless services that have eliminated toll calling. You no longer wait minutes for a 100-page document. Such a document can be downloaded in and shared with others around the globe in seconds. Our appreciation for the cost of being online has fallen so low that a significant number of Americans believe that using online resources to transmit videos of singing cats has equal value to data containing vital procedures for surgery.

Net neutrality has spawned the delusion that democracy requires equal treatment of all traffic, no matter how mundane, non-substantive, or perverse. It is time to reverse this perversion by imputing a value component to online access and data exchange. A crucial first step toward bringing back value is the repeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 open internet order and the no-value rules that it created.

True network neutrality cannot occur if agreements on the pricing of the exchange of traffic are overseen by the federal government.  Content delivery networks, internet information portals, and broadband access providers should negotiate traffic exchange freely and allow their assessment of the value of traffic exchange determine price. These carriers have data on the value the consumer places on their content and access services and can design the proper price points for recovering costs and generating profits.

For the end-use consumer, a day of reckoning will occur. Will they meet the new demand for price recovery issued by content providers by paying higher prices?  Or will they spend less time on the internet? Some may see value by paying additional fees to content providers. For those who don’t, they will threaten to abandon internet networks or reduce the time spent on them. This will provide content and network providers to become innovative by providing tiers of services that give the consumer additional flexibility on payment and usage.

In the end, network neutrality won’t “destroy democracy” on the internet. To be technical, democracy is about choosing political leaders and until we have elections via the internet, the democracy argument is nonsense. What we will have, with the elimination of these rules, is a conduit of commerce being subjected to market rules voluntarily entered into by its participants.