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article imageOp-Ed: Conflicts of interest reveal why Internet must be a public good

By Calvin Wolf     Nov 13, 2014 in Politics
The Daily Dot has revealed a troubling bit of information: Two prominent opponents of net neutrality, Bret Swanson and Tom Hazlett, who recently published op-eds in The Wall Street Journal and TIME, respectively, are maybe a bit too cozy with ISPs.
There is a lot of hubbub over the net neutrality, and The Daily Dot has done a good job of simplifying the details. Recently, broadband Internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon, Suddenlink, AT&T, and others have successfully challenged Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules in court. Supporters of net neutrality, which means ISPs must treat all Internet content equally, are worried that ISPs will soon be able to alter users' Internet service to promote certain websites. To prevent this manipulated Internet, supporters of net neutrality are arguing that we must declare the Internet to be a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. According to the Roosevelt Institute, Title II regulates "common carriers" of communication services to ensure "equal access to these networks."
Prominent critics of this maneuver are coming out of the woodworks, and The Daily Dot has discovered that two "neutral" scholars opining against net neutrality may actually be somewhat cozy with Internet service providers...with this information not being presented in their op-eds. American Enterprise Institute scholar Bret Swanson, who opined against net neutrality on The Wall Street Journal, apparently did not have his relationship with Verizon and the trade group Broadband for America mentioned. Similarly, Tom Hazlett, Clemson University economics professor, who opined on TIME against net neutrality, did not have his previous consulting for ISPs disclosed.
This fluid relationship between high-ranking government appointees and scholars and "consulting" positions at for-profit ISPs reveals why the Internet must be made, unequivocally, a public good. There are simply too many conflicts of interest to expect that a non-neutral Internet can be kept fair. There is too much money at stake, too many "consulting" positions and "funded studies," to expect that we can balance things. Wealthy ISPs, like oligopolists in many industries, can afford to keep enough "scholars" and government appointees in their pockets to ensure that legislation is tilted in their favor...unless we act first.
I am a public school teacher. As a society, we go to great lengths to keep public K-12 education fair. Few would dare to suggest that corporations be allowed to plant themselves in our public schools and manipulate the flow of goods and services, requiring that all students purchase X and Y and limiting the access of those who do not wish to "pay to play." This "Title II" type regulation of public K-12 education is far from perfect, but it does ensure that most students have a good shot at a good education.
Higher education is far less regulated...and is far less fair and efficient. Costs to consumers are excessive, consumers have no choice but to pay exorbitant fees for goods and services they may have no cause or desire to use, and there are fewer restrictions on what students are required to purchase for their courses. Professors, for example, can require that students purchase certain books for their classes, even if the books are written by those professors themselves! Talk about a conflict of interest! Students can be required to live on campus, buy professors' overpriced textbooks, and deal with graduation requirements that change even after their degree plans are written out.
Like ISPs, colleges and universities are powerful lobbyists who can skew legislation, and keep it skewed, in their favor. Can anyone argue that the lax government legislation on higher education, both public and private, has been successful and kept things efficient? Are we ensuring equitable distribution of higher education for all, based on merit? Obviously not.
Do we want our Internet to be run like higher education, dominated by powerful oligopolists who have enough lobbyists, "scholars," and government appointees in their pocket to ensure no meaningful legislation can trim their profit margins? I hope not!
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Net neutrality, obama net neutrality, FCC net neutrality, Internet, conflict of interest
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