Tech at Night: Amazon, San Francisco, Free Press, FCC, Google

Tech at Night

It’s Friday evening, and mentally I’ve almost checked out for the weekend, but I still have a lot to get through here, so let’s get going before I zone out with some Horatio Hornblower (a series I’ll start on this weekend thanks to a neat site called Age of Sail).


One big story is that Amazon may be trying to broker a Net Neutrality compromise. Amazon is, like Google, an Internet firm that stands to benefit greatly if ISPs are pounded into the ground by the FCC. But, as Amazon’s Paul Misener points out, “there have been almost no Net neutrality violations.” So Misener suggests, to cram his full piece into a few words as best as I can, that Internet routing be allowed to be more flexible and yes, payment enhanced, as long as everyone gets a shot at it. Fairness does not demand a socialist leveling of everyone onto the lowest common denominator of service.

It’s good to see at least some Net Neutrality proponents understand the way the Internet works both as a business as well as a technology, and can cut through the socialist ideology to start proposing reasonable compromise. I hope to see more talk of this nature.

Moving away from a flash of sanity to some insanity, San Francisco is being stupid again. They’ve passed a “Cell Phone Right-to-Know” city ordinance which requires phone vendors to post RF emissions data called Specific Absorption Rates measured for phones for sale. This is a bad idea because it just promotes the junk science theory that we’re all going to get cancer from radio waves coming from our phones, a theory rejected even by the FCC and the FDA. So wireless industry group CTIA is suing in federal court to block the law. Without getting into the issues of federalism, I’m glad to see somebody standing up to junk science.


Not that the FCC is always right. Sometimes, they’re just plan dishonest, like in their latest announcement in the runup to the National Broadband Plan. They’ve now declared that one must get at least 4 megabits of bandwidth in order to count as having “broadband.” Which is funny, because that means that I had broadband last weak by any reasonable definition, but now the government says I don’t anymore, because I only have 3 megabits of download. This is a move as ridiculous and dishonest as the government’s use of an unscientific BMI measurement to define obesity. Just as the nanny staters needed more obese Americans in order to justify new laws, so too does the FCC need to define more Americans as being without “broadband” in order to justify new laws and regulations.

And one of those new laws is already on the way: Say hello to an Internet tax. That’s right, Rick Boucher, Democrat, VA-09 (R+11 Cook PVI), is going to announce a bill to expand a tax for the so-called Universal Service Fund, in order to give welfare to people who don’t have the 4 megabit Internet connections the FCC insists you need to watch YouTube videos. This tax will be applied to other people’s phone and Internet connections, the same way it’s already applied to phone connections to pay for phone service in the middle of nowhere.


This kind of wealth transfer is ridiculous, of course. The idea that you need a fast Internet connection no matter where you are, even if you’re deliberately moving far away from civilization, is just detached from reality. People like Boucher, if they get their way, will be building Internet bridges no nowhere, which makes it all the more fitting that George Ou calls the broadband plans “geek pork”.

Why is the FCC getting so ridiculous? They’re pushing a radical agenda driven by men like Robert McChesney, co-founder of the fringe neo-Marxist group Free Press. Adam Thierer calls them the cyber-collectivist threat to our media freedoms, which will do as well as neo-Marxist to describe them.

And now we’re into the home stretch of this week’s last Tech at Night, so let’s drop back to a staple: our favorite illicit lobbyist for Google from within the White House, Andrew McLaughlin. He’s still at it, skirting ethics rules to meet and collaborate with Google and related lobbyists. So the National Legal and Policy Center is pushing for the House to listen to Darrell Issa and look into this further, a proposal I agree with strongly.


Of course, there’s one foolproof way to ensure Issa’s oversight happens: elect Republicans to a House Majority to make Darrell Issa a chairman. Once we break the one-party power structure in DC, real oversight will happen.


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