Thursday, May 12, 2016

Conservatives Playing the Victim Card


            The last few weeks has had a remarkable glut of instances where conservatives bemoan their victimhood in the Internet ecosystem.  With much snark and righteous indignation, conservative Senators, FCC Commissioners and of course incumbent operators, rail against various instances where the deck is stacked against them.

            Senator Thune of South Dakota wants to investigate alleged bias in Facebook’s compilation of current trending news.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/11/technology/facebook-thune-conservative.html; and http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/10/technology/conservatives-accuse-facebook-of-political-bias.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0.  The Wall Street Journal suggests Facebook should explain how its algorithms work in the spirit of “transparency;” see http://www.wsj.com/articles/share-this-on-facebook-146292180.  Of course, you don’t hear a similar expectation that Fox News explain how it lives up to its tag line: “Fair and Balanced.”

            Did Senator Thune call for a network neutrality mandate for Facebook, or worse yet, a government mandated “Fairness Doctrine”? 

            The two FCC Republican Commissioners go farther alone the victim trail.  They start with a knee jerk bias supporting incumbent stakeholders no matter how bad that favoritism hurts consumers.  Based on this logic, there is nothing the FCC could or should do to promote set top box competition.  Ask just about any cable television subscriber how they feel about compulsory set top box rentals and you will get an earful.  Commissioner Pai wants the elimination of a set top box requirement, yet he remains oblivious to decades of efforts by the cable industry to prevent a return to “cable ready” television sets.  How can Commissioner Pai not know that the cable industry has worked tirelessness to prevent the CableCard option from working and providing an alternative to monthly rentals of the cable television operator’s box?

            Both Commissioners seem adverse to the FCC releasing congressionally mandated reports, especially ones that reach negative conclusions about the state of actual competition, or release inconvenient statistics.  For example, the recently released 17th Report on Video Competition (see http://www.wsj.com/articles/share-this-on-facebook-1462921801) offers damning statistics about cable television market concentration and the remarkable lack of CableCard use in set top boxes and video recorders not supplied by cable operators. While 99% of the United States has access to 3 MVPDs (2 DBS and 1 cable television), 36% have access to a fourth option provided by a telephone company. Operator-supplied set-top boxes used 53 million CableCards versus 613,000 in retail devices not supplied by the service provider.

            Despite damning statistics, the Democrat majority joined with the Republican minority in approving mergers that further consolidate the industry.  Rather than applaud this, FCC Commissioner Pai rants about the “"ideologically inspired extortion[ate]” nature of conditions designed to prevent ever larger firms, which by the way control most of the broadband market, from unfairly exploiting they market power.

            News flash: the FCC approved the merger despite generating 100s pages of evidence why it’s a bad deal for consumers.  To quote Shakespeare Commissioner Pai “doth protest too much.”

            From my perspective conservatives protest too much.  Apparently few conservatives get collegiate teaching opportunities in the U.S. Yet I see a bias in their favor in terms of access to sponsored research dollars, conferences and publications.  There are far more conservative foundations out there ready to nurture and fund like-minded researchers.  There are times where my unsponsored, independent work gets crowded out, not by better work, but by work that more closely aligns with the conservative agenda.

            Bottom line: conservative ideology—particularly that with a market orientation—has become mainstream.  Fox News rules the airwaves.  Even as their first mover market advantage should wane, incumbents benefit from conservative FCC Commissioners who ignore rent seeking tactics and support them. 


            I thought conservatives abstained from selecting market winners and losers.

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