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Nothing Neutral about Trump

February 8, 2017

Journalism might be the first draft of history (as well as a lot of less honourable or important things) but, even so, it is too early to be bringing a name to our current era. But there can be little doubt that in the fullness of time, The Age of Unpredictability will be a candidate.

Following the Brexit vote and the Trump triumph I, for one, am out of the prediction business. More interestingly so are the – it turns out – pretty useless polling companies. I guess they were so far inside the ‘bubble’ they didn’t realise that thoroughly disillusioned electorates had no hesitation in dissembling when asked by the pollsters of ‘the liberal elite’; “surely to goodness you’re not going to vote got for that/him (delete as appropriate)?”

So, now the Donald is set to ‘make America great again.’ If nothing else it adds a new frisson to turning on the news each morning; you genuinely never know what he might have done while you’ve been asleep.

Except, somewhat counter-intuitively for a ‘billionaire businessman’, you know he won’t have been promoting the free market; not in goods, services, or ideas – anyone who disagrees with him is mad, bad or, at the very least ‘so called.’

In our world, he is against Net Neutrality, but he is for the right of American corporations to do what they like to restrict access then charge for it (though presumably only so long as the machinery involved is made in America). The fact this also tends to hurt the pinko hi-techers of Silicon Valley is merely a welcome side effect.

Ajit Pai is Trump’s pick for FCC Chair. A former Verizon lawyer, he followed his bosses example in firing off a bewildering number of orders in his first couple of weeks, all of them essentially winding back the consumer protection / business restricting (you pick) rules of Obama’s Chairman Wheeler.

But everything except Net Neutrality is just target practice for the main event. Pai has already said he disagreed with the 2015 designation of broadband as a utility that thereby enshrined the principle of neutrality.

As with much else the Administration is trying to sweep away, it may not be that simple – the law is the law until it is replaced by a new one, it can’t just be broken by either commission or omission. Mr Pai, as a lawyer, unlike Mr Trump, should have some grasp of this.

The Net Neutrality principle has already been to Federal Court and been upheld. But not cancelling it doesn’t mean not undermining it – in the first week of February, the FCC summarily cancelled an investigation into ISPs ‘zero rating’ – like when AT&T zero rates your data if you subscribe to DirecTV Now (which it owns) but charges you if you stream Hulu or Netflix or any other service. It is also worth noting that just days after declaring he wanted to make the FCC more transparent, the order was issued with no consultation or publicity.

Anyway, at least we don’t have to worry over here; the EU is firmly committed to Net Neutrality and transparency – although its bureaucracy can be just as obscuring as any intent at secrecy. Oh, hang on, I’m in the UK and we have Brexit and our supine, I mean special, relationship with the US. Virgin already belongs to an American company, Sky soon will and surely BT’s self-harmed share price and the weak pound will bring international suitors soon enough. But then it doesn’t do to predict anything just now.

Categories: Blogs, Broadband, Business, ISP, M&A, Nick Snow, People, Regulation