Award Winning Blog

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Lessons in Incivility: Two Frequent and Frustrating Strategies

            My academic post makes it possible for countless hours of reading across the entire political, economic, philosophical and social spectrum.  I recommend you avoid the common practice of seeking only content that confirms preconceptions.  My eclectic pursuit of all sides to the story requires patience and tolerance for hyperbole and deliberate mistruths.

            Two frequently used strategies drive me crazy.  A pox on all houses—left, right and central--where authors personalize a dispute and perpetuate a mischaracterization of truth when they surely know better.

            I recently read an extensive analysis about the refusal of Verizon Wireless in California to waive its contractual right to throttle broadband bit transmission speeds of first responders, including fire fighters.  The author and I share many conclusions, including the confirmation that Verizon reserved the legal right to throttle subscribers who exceed a threshold of data usage, despite having purchased an “unlimited” data plan.  Additionally, the author and I agree that Verizon did not violate any specific prohibition in the now reversed FCC 2015 Open Internet Order.

            Not content to make a convincing and thorough case, the author (I will not identify, or vilify him) relied on two strategies I will not use.  He singled out and maligned an individual who had a major role in shaping the FCC’s 2015 document.  Rather than agree to disagree, the author deviated from substantive discourse and took several opportunities to criticize the person and not her work product.  How does vilifying a person enhance and bolster the critic’s case?

            The other uncivil strategy involves the misrepresentation of a regulatory policy as more intrusive, unnecessary, harmful and atavistic than what is true.  In this case, the author misrepresented the FCC’s common carrier, telecommunications service regulation applied to Internet Service Providers as something appropriate only for “public utilities.”  Surely this author knows wireless carriers, including Verizon Wireless, trigger Title II, common carrier regulatory oversight.  This regulatory status does not convert wireless carriers into public utilities, nor does it impose burdensome regulatory duties. 

            The Telecommunications Act of 1996 authorizes the FCC to streamline and forbear from imposing most common carrier regulatory burdens when a market becomes competitive.  The FCC has largely deregulated the wireless marketplace even as it continues to classify service providers as common carriers.  No one can credibly assert that U.S. wireless carriers bear a costly regulatory burden that has created major disincentives for these carriers to participate in billion dollar spectrum auctions, or to invest billions more in infrastructure.
            Characterizing Title II regulation as unnecessary and so “old school” misrepresents the nature, scope and burden of the flexibility the FCC has in applying this legislatively mandated classification.  The author appears to have used this frequent mischaracterization to bolster his argument that network neutrality regulation is unnecessary.  We could have civil and substantive discussion about whether and how the FCC should regulate ISPs, including whether such oversight has any impact on public safety and the broadband speed of first responders’ smartphones.  As well, we could speculate whether the FCC would have backed away from its initial streamlining of ISP regulatory oversight.  Instead, the author uses an inappropriate public utility frame for the nature of the FCC’s previous regulatory regime.  He appears to imply that any sort of common carrier regulation constitutes overreach, even as wireless carriers have thrived under such status, without operating as public utilities, or trying to characterize their regulatory burden as equal to that borne by true public utilities, like electric companies.

            The author distracts his largely on point analysis with two uncivil tactics that have become both common and inappropriate.