FCC’s McDowell on Fairness and Neutrality

by on August 13, 2008 · 11 comments

This morning’s Drudge Report features the stories everyone is talking about today, with reports on U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps winning another couple of gold medals, the latest on the Russia-Georgia war, and — of course — FCC commissioner Robert McDowell on threat of the Fairness Doctrine and net neutrality regulation.

Well, maybe the first two stories are getting a bit more attention, but McDowell’s remarks –  made at The Heritage Foundation yesterday after a blogger’s briefing  — is getting a surprising amount of coverage in the blogsphere and trade press.

The remarks were originally reported in a story on the Business and Media Institute website, in response to a question about prospects for a Fairness Doctrine revival.   McDowell responded that it the issue hadn’t been raised at the FCC, but went on to state that there is a danger of similar rules put into place under a different name.   A spot-on analysis, as we’ve argued many times before. (see video here.)

He then went on to say that the Fairness Doctrine “will be intertwined with the net neutrality debate” (net neutrality was the primary focus of his remarks at the Heritage briefing).  Referring to concerns of regulation supporters — including what he called “a few isolated conservatives” that large corporations will censor their content, he said the “bigger concern should be if you have government dictating content policy.”

Most of the coverage of McDowell’s remarks interpreted McDowell as saying that the Fairness Doctrine itself might be extended to blogs (i.e, the Drudge headline: “Return of ‘Fairness Doctrine’ Could Control Web Content…”).  Such a direct extension of the old broadcast-only fairness rules is unlikely though.   Instead, McDowell I think was raising the danger that net neutrality regulation could be the source of such web content controls.

That same danger was raised last year by Adam Thierer, who argued in a Progress and Freedom Foundation paper that net neutrality regulation was in fact “a fairness doctrine for the Internet.” As Adam explained:
“It’s a brilliant tactic by the Left. Why exert all your energy attempting to reimpose “fairness” mandates on broadcasters alone when you can capture them, and much more, by regulating the entire Internet? After all, in a world of media convergence and abundance, bright lines dividing distinct media sectors or their products have vanished. Everything from TV shows to text messages run on multiple networks, making the old, broadcast-oriented Fairness Doctrine a less effective means of reestablishing a liberal media monopoly. So the liberals got smart and came up with the perfect solution: use net neutrality as a backdoor way to impose the Fairness Doctrine on the entire media marketplace.”

Adam’s piece is worth reading.   And Commissioner McDowell — while not receiving gold medal at the rate they are being collected by Michael Phelps — certainly deserves kudos for raising the alarm bells on this aspect of net neutrality.

  • http://www.funchords.com/ Robb Topolski

    McDowell’s comparison of Network Neutrality is the dumbest thing I’ve heard all week. And while I’m glad that you’re smart enough to realize that it probably won’t happen, I’m puzzled that you don’t explain why.

    So I will — The Fairness Doctrine, if applied on the Internet, would violate Network Neutrality principles!

    The network has never cared about the political positions of the senders of packets, and it would violate the neutral behavior of the network if it had to start caring. Today’s free marketplace provided by the Internet ensures that no voices get blocked and that access to all voices are ensured to anyone who wants to listen. The fairness doctrine provided for “equal time” on a radio station, regardless if anyone was listening to it. That’s not a free market, and McDowell definitely knows the difference.

    The Comcast case was about “deregulating” the Internet — Oh, it wasn’t regulated by the government, this was actually worse — It was being regulated by a monopoly.

    C’mon TLF — what was really going on here? I didn’t see his presentation, and so I don’t really know for myself. But I’m thinking that a speech at the Heritage Foundation, which is a well-respected source especially popular with fans of AM talk-radio (as I am), which has had unsurpassed analysis of how our tax money gets spent — this was the perfect place for McDowell to try and drive a wedge between bloogers on NN by bringing up the long-dead Fairness Doctrine to strike fear in those who generally support the idea of a free and open Internet.

    Be skeptical — we fought (and won) a case to keep Comcast from regulating the global Internet. Do you think we did that because we want OUR (or any) government to regulate it, instead?

    Thanks

    Robb Topolski

  • http://www.funchords.com/ Robb Topolski

    McDowell’s comparison of Network Neutrality is the dumbest thing I’ve heard all week. And while I’m glad that you’re smart enough to realize that it probably won’t happen, I’m puzzled that you don’t explain why.

    So I will — The Fairness Doctrine, if applied on the Internet, would violate Network Neutrality principles!

    The network has never cared about the political positions of the senders of packets, and it would violate the neutral behavior of the network if it had to start caring. Today’s free marketplace provided by the Internet ensures that no voices get blocked and that access to all voices are ensured to anyone who wants to listen. The fairness doctrine provided for “equal time” on a radio station, regardless if anyone was listening to it. That’s not a free market, and McDowell definitely knows the difference.

    The Comcast case was about “deregulating” the Internet — Oh, it wasn’t regulated by the government, this was actually worse — It was being regulated by a monopoly.

    C’mon TLF — what was really going on here? I didn’t see his presentation, and so I don’t really know for myself. But I’m thinking that a speech at the Heritage Foundation, which is a well-respected source especially popular with fans of AM talk-radio (as I am), which has had unsurpassed analysis of how our tax money gets spent — this was the perfect place for McDowell to try and drive a wedge between bloogers on NN by bringing up the long-dead Fairness Doctrine to strike fear in those who generally support the idea of a free and open Internet.

    Be skeptical — we fought (and won) a case to keep Comcast from regulating the global Internet. Do you think we did that because we want OUR (or any) government to regulate it, instead?

    Thanks

    Robb Topolski

  • http://www.cabletechtalk.com Turk

    Do you think we did that because we want OUR (or any) government to regulate it, instead?

    But that’s exactly what you asked for, and that’s exactly what you’re likely to get.

    It’s easy to say you have innocent intentions in asking government to get involved. It’s quite another to look at cases where such involvement was requested that actually stopped there.

    Government is never going to be happy just having it’s toe in the door and it won’t stop pushing. Then, to quote Tommy Boy:

    He sneaks into your house once,
    that’s all it takes. Next thing you know there’s money missing off the dresser and your daughter is knocked up. I’ve seen it a hundred times.

  • http://www.cabletechtalk.com Turk

    Do you think we did that because we want OUR (or any) government to regulate it, instead?

    But that’s exactly what you asked for, and that’s exactly what you’re likely to get.

    It’s easy to say you have innocent intentions in asking government to get involved. It’s quite another to look at cases where such involvement was requested that actually stopped there.

    Government is never going to be happy just having it’s toe in the door and it won’t stop pushing. Then, to quote Tommy Boy:

    He sneaks into your house once,
    that’s all it takes. Next thing you know there’s money missing off the dresser and your daughter is knocked up. I’ve seen it a hundred times.

  • WSA

    Topolski Writes: “The Comcast case was about ‘deregulating’ the Internet — Oh, it wasn’t regulated by the government, this was actually worse — It was being regulated by a monopoly.”

    If Mr. Topolski truly believes that the FCC is “deregulating” the Internet by regulating the Internet, and if he truly believes that Comcast is a “monopoly,” then his complete confusion may be attributable to his having been tragically miseducated about basic economics.

    Oh, is this what Adam Thierer refers to as “Hippie Economics?”

  • WSA

    Topolski Writes: “The Comcast case was about ‘deregulating’ the Internet — Oh, it wasn’t regulated by the government, this was actually worse — It was being regulated by a monopoly.”

    If Mr. Topolski truly believes that the FCC is “deregulating” the Internet by regulating the Internet, and if he truly believes that Comcast is a “monopoly,” then his complete confusion may be attributable to his having been tragically miseducated about basic economics.

    Oh, is this what Adam Thierer refers to as “Hippie Economics?”

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