The Hypocrisy of Net Neutrality: Who Needs Transparency?

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

TechCrunch’s Cat Zakrzewski has an odd argument against Republican bills to curb the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent decision to impose Net Neutrality: we don’t really need transparency, after all. Zakrzewski’s stance shows how far Silicon Valley’s “progressive” activists have come after years of pushing for the maximum transparency possible in public affairs. When the feds are doing what they want, the public is better off in the dark.

Zakrzewsi is responding to Republican efforts to roll back the recent FCC decision, which will regulate Internet service providers like telephone companies under Title II of the Federal Communication Act of 1934. That move has even some of the most passionate advocates of Net Neutrality–which would prevent Internet providers from charging different users different rates for different content–worried that they have placed the future of tech entrepreneurship in danger.

Even if, for argument’s sake, Net Neutrality were a good idea, the way the policy was enacted should be cause for concern. After years of deliberation, the Obama administration suddenly decided to move ahead with the policy after Democrats lost the November election. The FCC chair, Tom Wheeler, suddenly reversed his stance–though he denies he was under White House pressure–and the regulations were kept from public review until the last moment. They passed on a party-line vote.

In response, Republicans have proposed a number of measures to increase the transparency of the FCC. These proposals would appear sensible to any neutral observer: requiring the FCC to publish proposed new rules at the same time that the commissioners receive the proposals; requiring the FCC to publish new rules within a day after approving them; and so on.

Zakrzewski has laughably weak arguments against these new proposals: “Adding transparency stipulations would likely slow down the agency’s processes even more and also subject the commissioners to further political influence,” she says. It is important to allow “technical edits” to rules after they are proposed so that rules can “stand up against inevitable lawsuits,” she says. And as for greater transparency in how the FCC delegates its work? Not to worry, the FCC has already launched its own internal review.

How likely is it that Silicon Valley would accept these arguments on any other issue?

For Silicon Valley, Net Neutrality has become a progressive cause with its own partisan momentum that has little to do with the reality of how the Internet actually works. When confronted, some of its chief advocates cannot even answer basic questions about the policy.

The Net Neutrality debate is useful, however, in shining a spotlight on Silicon Valley’s moral confusion as it struggles to understand that for all of its good intentions, it is behave like just another special interest group.