THE BLOG

Who Really Won on Net Neutrality (But Won't Admit It)

03/09/2015 10:46 pm ET | Updated May 09, 2015
Alex Wong via Getty Images

Republicans and supposedly pro-business groups have been on the attack ever since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided that it would reinstate the principle of an Internet open to everyone.

The rhetoric will ratchet up again in a few weeks when the Commission gets around to releasing the text of the ruling.

There is a sad lesson here, boys and girls: This is what happens when ideology trumps reality and when people locked into a set point of view choose not to see the larger picture. Business won the Net Neutrality fight -- only it wasn't the right businesses.

From members of Congress who introduce bills to nullify the FCC action to Jeb Bush, they are all taking the same line. Typical of the propaganda being dispensed on Capitol Hill was this from Rep. Marsha Blackburn. Introducing her ironically named Internet Freedom Act, said : "Last week's vote by the FCC to regulate the Internet like a 1930s era public utility is further proof that the Obama Administration will stop at nothing in their efforts to control the Internet."

Even Jeb Bush got into the act, strangely enough using the identical talking points. "Just think of the logic of using a 1934 law that was designed when we did have a monopoly for wireline service as the basis to regulate the most dynamic part of life in America," he told an audience in Iowa.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest, baddest business group around, got into it also, saying it "strongly opposes" the FCC's actions. Etc. Ad Nauseum.

An Alternate Reality

What they should be saying is: "We thank the FCC for creating the most level playing field in history, one that will spur innovation, boost the economy and lead to thousands of new jobs."

The FCC's decision is one of the most pro-business policies ever enacted by an agency under the Obama Administration. Yet the so-called defenders of business refuse to see it because of (choose one or more) blind hatred of Obama, control of their agendas by big telecom and cable companies who supply the money for campaigns and/or organizations or the limited world view that any government intervention is bad, even if the result is to protect and grow businesses.

So while the Chamber, Verizon, Comcast and others prepare to exceed their unlimited legal and lobbying budgets in the self-fulfilling prophesy that the FCC ruling will lead to litigation, others should rejoice.

Here's a partial list of who should be singing along with Pharrell: Amazon, HBO, Dish, ESPN, CBS. Maybe Major League Baseball.

Last time I checked, they were all businesses. And as a result, of the FCC, they will have one less really big worry.

They would no longer have to be concerned that what happened to Netflix would happen to them -- that the FCC stood by and watched the pioneer streaming company get held up for extra dough by Comcast and Verizon to make certain those mysterious slowdowns in service would miraculously disappear.

Think of educational institutions which offer video courses, chains like Best Buy or Home Depot that allow customers to view products online and order them for pickup in stores. Every company or institution which does anything online, and that's most of them, needs the certainty of equal treatment by dominant providers of essential services, particularly when many retail customers don't have a choice of retail network providers.

Don't forget the startups, the Engine constituency. As Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson told the FCC, "I'm here to thank you and your colleagues for taking decisive action to protect the Internet as a platform for entrepreneurship and innovation." They played a crucial role while the bigger companies, like Facebook and Google sat it out or tried to be diplomatic and please the Republicans.

Dickerson hasn't forgotten, as apologists for big media companies apparently have, that those glory early days of the Internet were accomplished under regulation, when telephone service was required to carry all traffic equally.

The Standard Oil Lesson

The idea that some businesses are more equal than others, and worthy of defense, is an old idea in American politics.

We can illustrate the concept of what benefits business by turning to one of the most influential business studies, "The History of the Standard Oil Company," by Ida M. Tarbell, one of America's preeminent journalists. Her landmark project began in 1901, and she published her work in McClure's magazine between 1902 and 1904. Her observations and reporting are as relevant today.

Back then, Standard Oil was the equivalent of today's Comcast or Verizon. It had enough power to control the railroads and make life miserable for independent oil producers who needed to ship their product to market, but had to pay more because Standard paid less.

As Tarbell described it, this is what the rest of the oil industry wanted: "They believed in independent effort -- every man for himself and fair play for all. They wanted competition, loved open fight. They considered that all business should be done openly; that the railways were bound as public carriers to give equal rates; that any combination which favoured one firm or one locality at the expense of another was unjust and illegal." This idea, Tarbell said, "had become the moral code" of the independents.

Etsy's CEO Dickerson couldn't have put it any better.

That's all that's on the table today, just as it was more than 100 years ago. Even in Tarbell's time the regulatory structure wasn't perfect, and it's not today. But without it, the vast majority of the business world and their customers will be at the mercy of the select few.

I get that the Chamber and the big media defenders on the Hill have their issues. But the idea that you let lots of businesses suffer while defending only the privileged few is just nonsense. If you are pro-business, you should be pro-business. Occupy The Chamber, at least until they realize they really did win on Net Neutrality.