Net Neutrality Rhetoric, Reality

First, I love The Oatmeal. Matt Inman’s comic regularly speaks my mind on all manner of life’s little complaints (and solutions). Sadly, when he tried to explain net neutrality, I think he missed the mark. By a lot.

Then the President decided he’d offer some free advice to the FCC on how that agency should proceed with regulating the internet. Same problem.

So I sat down with Berin Szoka of Techfreedom to try to separate the aspirations of activists from the realities of how markets and the internet actually function and what kind of regulatory regime will serve consumers best.

The Terrible 32s

I sometimes wonder if the parents who chuckle knowingly at stories like these ever sense that they’ve utterly failed at the most basic child-rearing tasks:

Your 32-year-old may make outrageous demands incommensurate with the $87.04 in crumpled bills and pennies in her Mason jar. For instance: beginning the day with a $10 green juice after a night of picklebacks and one-dollar pizza; pursuing another M.F.A. degree; living in Park Slope “independently” instead of with four roommates.

Rather than flatly refuse, we recommend gentle compromise: suggesting she convert to canned V8; advising her to put her poetry and fiction M.F.A.s to use before plunging into the lucrative world of printmaking; and noting that “independently” suggests “without subsidies,” which, you’ve been meaning to tell her, are ending soon.

Still, it’s pretty funny. RTWT.

Big Speech in the Kentucky Senate Race

In The New York Times Magazine‘s piece on the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky, I came across this:

This year’s Kentucky Senate race is the latest chapter in this political arms race, drawing contributions from large outside “super PACs” and wealthy individual donors.

Factually incorrect, but not surprising.

It’s typical for media outlets to ignore the important distinction between a direct contribution to a campaign and political advertising that supports a candidate. What’s troubling to me how often the error occurs and the ignorance it demands of reporters and editors. I’d prefer to believe that it’s borne out of a poor understanding of both the First Amendment and campaign finance laws, but it’s very hard to square.

Reporters, in my experience, broadly support restrictions on free spending on political ads and other advocacy by unaffiliated groups. Establishment journalism has long occupied a special place free from exactly those kinds of restrictions, but there’s no good reason to believe that kind of exemption would have to continue. Newspapers, radio stations and television outlets have served as providers of both information and advocacy, endorsing candidates freely and spending mightily on the bandwidth to broadcast those messages. There’s no clear distinction between the spending of a super PAC on a message and the spending of a newspaper to express the same thing.

If it’s pure ignorance that drives reporters to not clearly understand the implications of tight regulation on “outside” advocacy, it’s galling. If the error is driven by the specious, unstated belief that no future Congress would dare impose those same restrictions on establishment media, it’s dangerous.

The Burning Man Tax

“Burning Man, like any city or nation, requires funding and organization to function. When people buy tickets, they help to pay for the event’s needs as a price of citizenship. It’s exactly the same as a tax.”

– Tom Berman, “Here’s Why Republicans Should Not Be Getting Into Burning Man

You see, it’s just like when I pay my annual CostCo tax or the occasional Concert Tax or Batting Cage Tax. It’s exactly the same thing. Except I don’t have to pay any of those taxes. Now, actual taxes? Yeah, you pay those or go to jail.