Americans for Tax Reform led a coalition with other center-right organizations flagging concerning developments in the infrastructure bill negotiations. Price controls and rate regulation; dramatic expansion of executive brand and agency authority; and government-controlled internet should never be on the table.
You can read the letter below or click HERE for a full version:
July 23, 2021
RE: Broadband Infrastructure Spending
We write to you today over some concerning developments in the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations on broadband. We are guided by the principles of limited government and believe that the flaws in the infrastructure framework go well beyond the issues discussed here. Nonetheless, our present aim is to advocate specifically against proposals that would enact price controls, dramatically expand agency authority, and prioritize government-controlled internet.
The infrastructure plan should not include rate regulation of broadband services. Congress should not authorize any federal or governmental body to set the price of any broadband offering. Even steps that open the door to rate regulation of broadband services will prove harmful in the long run.
Nor should Congress continue to abdicate its oversight responsibilities to executive branch agencies like the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Giving NTIA unchecked authority to modify or waive requirements, renders all guardrails placed by Congress meaningless. There must be oversight of the programs to ensure that taxpayer dollars go toward connecting more Americans to broadband as opposed to wasteful pet projects.
Historically, attempts by NTIA to close the digital divide through discretionary grants have failed, leading to wasteful overbuilds, corruption, and improper expenditures. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 created the $4 billion Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant program administered by NTIA. From 2009, when BTOP was instituted, to 2017, at least one-third of all the reports made by the Inspector General for the Department of Commerce were related to the BTOP program, and census data showed that the BTOP program had no positive effect on broadband adoption. And this was with only $4 billion in taxpayer dollars. We cannot afford to make the same mistake with much greater sums.
Legislation must be clear and not create ambiguities that are left to the whims of regulators. While “digital redlining” is unacceptable, the FCC should not be allowed to define the term however it sees fit and promulgate any regulations it thinks will solve problems—real or imagined. Doing so would give the agency carte blanche to regulate and micromanage broadband in any way it desires. This would be an egregious expansion of FCC authority. Moreover, definitions and regulations could change whenever party control of the agency changes, leading to a back-and-forth that creates uncertainty for consumers and businesses.
Legitimate desire to ensure that low-income Americans have access to broadband infrastructure should not be used as a smokescreen to codify aspects of the recent Executive Order on Competition, which should not be included in any bipartisan infrastructure agreement. Republicans fought hard to support the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order. Any legislating on the functions and deployment of Internet technologies must move as a standalone bill through regular order with committee review. These questions are far too important to shoehorn into a massive bill without rigorous debate.
Any funding for broadband buildout must target locations without any broadband connection first, and this should be determined by the Congressionally mandated FCC broadband maps. Congress has oversight over the FCC and the FCC has already conducted several reverse auctions. Reverse auctions get the most out of each taxpayer dollar towards closing the digital divide. Areas where there is already a commitment from a carrier to build out a network, should not be considered for grants, and the NTIA should not be able to override the FCC’s map to redefine “unserved” and subsidize duplicative builds.
Government-controlled Internet should not be prioritized in any grant program. With few exceptions, government-owned networks (GONs) have been abject failures. For example, KentuckyWired is a 3,000-mile GON that was sold to taxpayers as a $350 million project that would be complete by spring of 2016. Those projections could not have been more wrong. More than five years past the supposed completion date, fiber construction for KentuckyWired is still “in progress” in some parts of the state and a report from the state auditor has concluded that taxpayers will end up wasting a whopping $1.5 billion on this redundant “government owned network” over its 30-year life. NTIA should certainly not encourage these failures to be replicated.
We appreciate your work to help close the digital divide and agree that access to reliable internet is a priority, however we should not use this need to serve as a cover for unnecessary
government expansion. Please feel free to reach out to any of the undersigned organizations or individuals should you have questions or comments.
* individual signer; organization listed for identification purposes only
Silicon Valley played an integral role in propelling Joe Biden to the White House. He raked in uncounted millions from liberal tech billionaires such as Netflix’s Reed Hastings, LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, and Apple heiress Laurene Powell Jobs; their employees shelled out $5 million more.
As Biden takes office, the techies want what they paid for. Reuters reports that executives at top firms like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are gunning for jobs at the Departments of Defense, State, Justice, and Commerce and also eyeing influential posts at the Federal Trade Commission and beyond.
They want two things: lucrative federal contracts and less scrutiny than they’ve gotten over the past four years, as President Donald Trump has made their bias against conservatives front-page news. The Department of Justice’s antitrust inquiry into big tech has already garnered bipartisan backing, including from a group of state attorneys general who have filed their own suit.
A Biden administration could make all of that go away. And it could ignore altogether these firms’ obsequious dealings with Communist China.
That explains the rush to fill seats: It’s unlikely that the techies moving into the Biden administration will check their business relationships at the door. Each hire is another pressure point for Silicon Valley’s most powerful to exploit.
This is hardly a problem unique to Democrats—you just hear about it less when they’re in the White House. This sort of revolving door was considered outrageous in the George W. Bush administration, when Democrats and the media harped relentlessly on Dick Cheney’s ties to Halliburton and charged that he was in the pocket of Big Oil. They raised the same ruckus when Trump appointed Exxon chief Rex Tillerson as his first secretary of state.
These unseemly connections aren’t new for Democrats. Google employees averaged a meeting a week with that Obama White House, influencing a president who “routinely pushed policy that pleased the tech-savvy.”
Now think what happens with those same lobbyists running the show. After rolling out transition teams free of connections to big tech, Team Biden added several Facebook executives over the Thanksgiving holiday. The transition team “has already stacked its agency review teams with more tech executives than tech critics,” Reuters notes, including “several officials from Big Tech companies, which emerged as top donors to the campaign.”ADVERTISING
Their influence doesn’t stop there. Biden on Tuesday named as an economic adviser Joelle Gamble, who last worked as an investor under eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, funneling funding to outfits run by other Biden appointees. Others may soon follow, like Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropy chief and former Kamala Harris aide Mike Troncoso.
For just one example of how a problematic connection, consider WestExec, the consultancy cofounded by secretary of state nominee Tony Blinken. The firm helped Google win contracts from the Defense Department and advised Google cofounder Eric Schmidt’s philanthropy. Now, Reuters says, Schmidt is making recommendations for personnel in the Biden Defense Department, a textbook example of business relationships shaping government policy.
That’s just the start of the coming horse trading, hidden behind the Obama-era pretext that the White House is merely cultivating a relationship with the smartest people. But if personnel is policy, the Biden White House will be doing everything it can to comfort Silicon Valley’s most comfortable.
In a recent op-ed, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg implored the state to get more involved in governing the internet. “Every day, we make decisions about what speech is harmful, what constitutes political advertising, and how to prevent sophisticated cyberattacks,” he began. “These are important for keeping our community safe. But if we were starting from scratch, we wouldn’t ask companies to make these judgments alone.”
For starters, there’s no such a thing as “harmful speech.” There might be speech that offends us. There might be speech we disagree with. There’s also speech that’s inarguably ugly, dishonest, pornographic or despicable. “We” allow these unpleasant words to go largely unregulated because we value the broader liberty of being able to offer opinions without government censors dictating which thoughts are acceptable.
But if Zuckerberg wants to rid his platform of this “hate speech,” no one is stopping him. Facebook allegedly employs a number of new mechanisms to achieve this very task. Good luck.
But Zuckerberg also claims that “we,” as society, now have a special responsibility to facilitate his efforts to keep people “safe” from reprehensible rhetoric. We have no such obligation. Facebook already offers users the ability to block or Continue reading →
To show support for the promotion and protection of intellectual property rights, the National Center has joined with over 50 organizations in a coalition letter to Congress. This letter lays out the importance of IP in creating American opportunity and competitiveness.
By sharing this set of guidelines and beliefs with lawmakers, the coalition hopes to encourage Congress to show respect and vigilance for this important part of the nation’s economic engine.
In addition to the National Center, other free-market organizations that signed the letter include the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Tax Reform, Frontiers of Freedom and Independent Women’s Voice. Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH Coalition has also signed on.
Addressed to the entire 116th Congress, the letter notes that the U.S. Constitution addresses the need to protect intellectual property in Article I, Section 8. This proves the Founding Fathers’ recognition that “the best way to encourage creation and Continue reading →
“URGENT,” read the popular meme on social media on Monday, “If you’re not freaking out about Net Neutrality right now, you’re not paying attention.”
Well, we have some good news. If you can read this editorial, it means you’ve survived the first 24 hours without the regulations that the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission decided were necessary to preserve net neutrality. Your Internet provider has not yet gotten around to censoring the Internet.
CNN, absurdly reported “the end of the Internet as we know it” in a news piece after the FCC voted in December to repeal the Obama-era regulation. That headline was later changed, perhaps because someone figured out that the Internet was only going back to the way it had been pretty much right up until June 12, 2015. Continue reading →
Could you bear to live in a world where parts of the Internet might be bundled and sold to you monthly in the form of subscriptions? Apparently, some people can’t. A representative from California shared this graphic on social media, supposedly to demonstrate how terrible lifting net neutrality would be. To me, it demonstrates the exact opposite.
If you add up the subscriptions, the “no net neutrality” model costs 4 cents less. Continue reading →
Perhaps nowhere has President Trump’s roll-back of eight years of Obama’s presidency been more successful, early on, than in his efforts to unshackle the Internet from the hands of the federal government.
Fueled by $200 million in money from the Ford Foundation and George Soros, a cottage industry of activists and groups were funded to help transform the Internet into a government-run and monopolized utility. Among them was one called Free Press, operated by neo-Marxist Robert McChesney. McChesney has openly bragged about the need to transform the media to be “part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism,” and has cited Venezuelan strong-man Hugo Chavez as the exemplar of “free press.”
Rather than treat McChesney’s comments as the rantings of a mad-man, the FCC cited him as “remarkable” 46 times in justifying their decision to enact disingenuously named “Net Neutrality,” a key step in transforming the Internet under the thumb of government control. Continue reading →
The incredible ingenuity of the American people invented the internet—one of the most transformational technologies in human history. But even though we created and paid for the internet, we did not keep it for ourselves; we shared it for the benefit of all humanity. That spirit of freedom and generosity is the very essence of our great nation.
Since the internet’s inception, the United States government has played a critical role in supervising the core internet functions that allow websites to interface with the internet. If any other country had created the internet, this power could have been used to deny internet access to websites that were deemed politically undesirable, unpopular, threatening, or disfavored by the ruling elite.
But not here in the United States. The internet is an oasis of freedom today because of our First Amendment, which is unparalleled in the protection it affords free speech. So long as the U.S. government is involved in internet governance, it cannot deny any website internet access on account of the ideas it espouses. Continue reading →
When the Obama administration announced its plan to give up U.S. protection of the internet, it promised the United Nations would never take control. But because of the administration’s naiveté or arrogance, U.N. control is the likely result if the U.S. gives up internet stewardship as planned at midnight on Sept. 30.
On Friday Americans for Limited Government received a response to its Freedom of Information Act request for “all records relating to legal and policy analysis . . . concerning antitrust issues for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers” if the U.S. gives up oversight. The administration replied it had “conducted a thorough search for responsive records within its possession and control and found no records responsive to your request.”
It’s shocking the administration admits it has no plan for how Icann retains its antitrust exemption. The reason Icann can operate the entire World Wide Web root zone is that it has the status of a legal monopolist, stemming from its contract with the Commerce Department that makes Icann an “instrumentality” of government. Continue reading →
The reverse-chronological social media feed—that relic of, oh, like, five years ago that showed you all the posts by everyone you followed on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram—is dying. Indeed, it’s only a matter of time until it’s dead altogether:
Not everyone trusts large tech companies, of course. Whenever and wherever the chronological feed is replaced with its curated descendant, users worry that information they want to see will be hidden, while the content they don’t (like, say, advertisements) will be promoted. It’s an understandable fear. But, well, that ship has sailed: We’ve already given a lot of our online identities and public conversations over to social networks that we can’t hold directly accountable.
When it’s a question of simply seeing photos in a different order, well, that’s no real biggie. What about when it’s something a bit more substantial, however?
Regulators in Washington are showing increasing interest in tightening rules on political speech on the web, arguing that the dissonant voices enabled by “new media” have become too influential. If that effort is successful, experts wonder whether it could impact more traditional media as well, especially in how it relates to conservatives.
“The best example we can give is going back a few years to when the [Federal Communications Commission] was looking at trying to silence talk radio, which was obviously a realm of conservatism,” said Drew Johnson, executive director of the nonprofit group “Protect Internet Freedom.” He was referring to the agency’s “Fairness Doctrine,” which required broadcasters to grant equal time to opposing political candidates.
Democrats on the Federal Election Commission demonstrated a similar regulatory ambition in February, when they voted unsuccessfully to apply campaign finance laws, which are traditionally intended to govern paid political advertisements, to unpaid political accounts on Twitter. Continue reading →
Russia has run large scale experiments to test the feasibility of cutting the country off the World Wide Web, a senior industry executive has claimed.
The tests, which come amid mounting concern about a Kremlin campaign to clamp down on internet freedoms, have been described by experts as preparations for an information blackout in the event of a domestic political crisis.
Andrei Semerikov, general director of a Russian service provider called Er Telecom, said Russia’s ministry of communications and Roskomnadzor, the national internet regulator, ordered communications hubs run by the main Russian internet providers to block traffic to foreign communications channels by using a traffic control system called DPI. Continue reading →
Sen. Ted Cruz wants to safeguard the open Internet from authoritarian regimes. You’d think that would be an easy position to take, but it’s not. The Texas senator and presidential candidate is bucking the leadership of his Republican Party to push hard against the Obama administration plan to abandon America’s protection of the Internet from political interference.
This became an issue in March 2014, when the Commerce Department announced it would give up its Internet oversight by September 2015. Commerce exercises oversight through its contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, which keeps the engineers and network operators who manage the Internet free from political interference. China, Russia and other authoritarian regimes can censor websites only within their own countries, not globally as they have long desired.
Congress used its budget power to block Commerce from giving up the Icann contract during 2015, which should mean a two-year renewal into the next presidency. The Obama administration ignored that timetable and set the new date of July 2016 to give up control. Meanwhile, no alternative has emerged to protect the open Internet. Continue reading →
An international group of internet experts has released a proposal for how the US can cede oversight of the non-profit that manages the internet’s names and addresses.
The 199-page document follows the US commerce department’s controversial announcement last year that it would transfer its stewardship of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to a global network of interested parties.
The details of how ICANN would run on its own have been eagerly awaited around the world and especially in the US, where some Republican lawmakers have raised concerns that the transition may allow other countries to take control of the internet.
Since 1998, ICANN has held the contract to manage the master database for top-level domain names such as .com and .net and their corresponding numeric addresses. The functions are collectively known as Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA). Continue reading →
In a little-noticed corner at the intersection of technology and policy, big changes are underway that could have a profound impact on the Internet as we know it.
Unless government policy makers are careful, the role of the Internet as a global engine of innovation and free expression could be at risk.
As is widely acknowledged—but perhaps not fully appreciated—the Internet began in the 1970s as a U.S. government-funded project to establish an efficient and survivable network of networks that could operate outside of the public-switched telephone network. While today the Internet represents trillions of dollars of infrastructure investments made by global public and private network operators, its functioning still relies on the coordination and execution of four discrete technical functions collectively referred to as the IANA functions. For an admittedly gross over-simplification, think of the IANA functions as a “yellow pages” of sorts, which allows computers to know where and how to direct traffic to its final destination, and to allow human beings to understand these directions by converting computer language (e.g. a series of numbers 188.8.131.52) into recognizable words and letters (e.g. www.icann.org). Continue reading →