Is Network Neutrality a racist policy? At least one prominent Chicago politician seems to think so. Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele recently voiced his objections to the FCC’s proposed regulatory attempts to achieve Net Neutrality. The principle of network neutrality asserts that broadband providers should not be able to block or limit use of their networks in order to impose a tiered service model of access, or to hinder competitors.
Steele sees net neutrality as furthering the interests of an “elitist agenda.” In his Huffington Post piece, Steele argues:
[T]here is very real concern among communities of color that the FCC’s planned “third way” for new regulations would discourage investment in sorely needed broadband infrastructure, stifle innovation, and kill job growth that stems from the wide availability of broadband services. Anyone can tell you that the current Internet we enjoy today was built on the investment of private companies, companies that provide jobs and companies that continue to build out the needed access to broadband infrastructure, both wireless and wired. While I would love to be able to tell you that the public sector has been able to invest just as much, that is unfortunately not the reality. Furthermore, we need to ask what do these government regulations really do for us in terms of increasing adoption of broadband technology, and also accessibility across America.
Steele goes on to argue that proponents of net neutrality rely
. . . on the assumption that without FCC oversight the internet providers would have “free rein to prioritize, block or slow access to content on the web.” These claims are boldly passed off as fact without recognizing the record on these matters — since the original four net neutrality principles were enacted in 2005, there have been only three instances that required intervention, and these isolated incidents were handled quickly and without much fanfare. As a matter of fact, in a decision by liberal Judge David Tatel, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals has come down on the side of those against further Net Neutrality regulations in the Comcast v. FCC case.
What is interesting about Steele’s position is that it recognizes the role of private investment in internet infrastructure. He also makes the connection between the regulatory barriers and the incentives for private investors to expand broadband access.
Proponents of ever more regulation often assume quiet compliance from minority and underprivileged communities, whose interests they either ignore or simply do not bother to understand. It is refreshing to see a grass roots politician thoughtfully question the benefits of regulation.