Ward Armstrong Votes for Bills to Restrict FCC, FTC from Protecting Net Neutrality, Consumers

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    Look, I know there’s a lot of stupid stuff that happens in the legislatures, including our fine Virginia General Assembly. I also know that legislators are busy, can’t study every bill, don’t even know what they’re voting for half the time, etc. Finally, I expect Republican’ts to vote this way! But why on earth would the supposed leader of Democrats in the House of Delegates, Ward Armstrong, be voting for crazy bills like HJ 577 (urging Congress to limit regulation of the internet by the Federal Communications Commission – FCC) and HJ 578 (“urging Congress to refrain from granting expanded rulemaking authority” to the Federal Trade Commission)?

    A bit of background. Both bills are the handwork of a right-wing Republican, John O’Bannon. That, of course, should immediately raise a red flag for Democrats, but apparently it didn’t in this case. Not only that, but two seconds of using “teh Google” finds that O’Bannon’s anti-FCC bill is almost exactly along the lines of what the claptrap the crazy “Federalist Society” has been peddling. Namely, that it’s (supposedly) unconstitutional for the FCC to regulate the internet. What. The. You-Know-What?!?

    It’s actually quite simple what’s going on here: this is part of an orchestrated assault by right wingers and corporate bad actors against “net neutrality,” and specifically against the FCC’s new net-neutrality rules that were issued in December 2010. According to the right wingers who oppose the FCC regulations, the “free market” pretty much should be able to do whatever it wants with the internet, including creating different “tiers”/levels of service depending on how rich you are, how powerful you are, etc. Among those “free market” advocates and heroic defenders of the constitution are people like FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, who claims that “‘Net neutrality’ sounds nice, but the Web is working fine now.” McDowell and his ilk also believe that no new rules are needed “to ensure that the Internet remains open and free, and to discourage broadband providers from thwarting consumer demand.”

    In fact, what these moderate, reasonable new rules by the FCC do is simply togive the commission the authority to step into disputes about how Internet service providers are managing their networks or initiate their own investigations if they think ISPs are violating its rules.” The rules cover three main areas: “transparency; no blocking; and no unreasonable discrimination.

    Totally reasonable, right? Plus, it’s obviously a priority of the Obama Administration. So why on earth would Democratic House Caucus leader Ward Armstrong and other Virginia Democrats – Delegates Ken Plum, Kenny Alexander, Joe Johnson, and Johnny Joannou – vote in favor of legislation “urging Congress” to restrict the FCC from issuing its rules and doing its job, keeping the internet functioning well while protecting net neutrality? It’s totally bizarre. It’s also unacceptable.

    More on the flip

    As if that’s not bad enough, there’s also the anti-FTC bill, which is possibly even worse than anti-FCC bill. Believe it or not, Ward Armstrong and the aforementioned Democrats actually voted for a bill, again by John O’Bannon, that would urge Congress to protect “federalist principles” and to restrict the FTC from regulating unfair business practices (they put the word “unfair” in quotes in their bill, as if such a thing doesn’t exist).

    For instance, in July 2010, the FTC ruled that for-profit debt settlement companies “who sell their services by phone will have to show results before they charge customers.” The point of this was to “protect consumers from deceptive companies claiming to help settle their credit-card debts,” such as “misrepresenting their services, such as by making telemarketing promises to cut clients’ debts in half or to free clients from debt in only 12 to 24 months.”  

    What’s wrong with our government protecting consumers from deceptive, predatory companies? I guess you’d have to ask John O’Bannon and the other 14 Delegates – including Ward Armstrong and several other Democrats – who voted legislation to the contrary out of the Rules Committee this past week. Ugh.

    • Ingrid

      I see Del. Armstrong in these parts a lot. Mmmm…

    • My response was that it doesn’t say Virginia can opt out, just that the state should urge Congress to block the dastardly federal government from doing something dastardly — like protecting consumers and “net neutrality.” Horrors!

    • Cato the Elder

      The FCC really only paid lip service to neutrality in December. Without getting into the text of the ruling, it basically says broadband providers will not be able to prevent applications from being delivered to customers, but that they would be allowed to institute tiered pricing for both application providers and consumers.

      What does this mean? Well, let’s assume you’re a NetFlix subscriber. Let’s further assume that you’ve stopped your cable subscription altogether and are just consuming bandwidth at a rate of 50 bucks/month all-in (plus NetFlix subscription fees). Now, using tiered pricing let’s say Comcast jacks up your monthly rate to 120 bucks. That’s effectively telling the customer that they can’t access NetFlix by economically forcing them to switch back to cable, and that is not neutrality.

      Secondly, there’s a substantial amount of confusion among free market advocates around this particular issue. There seems to be a lot of reflexive noise being generated about how this is an overreach or unconstitutional, etc.. The role of government in the free market should be to keep them functioning in a fair and transparent manner, and critical infrastructure is important enough to the overall marketplace as to warrant extensive regulation, like utilities. The internet is too important to our economy and society to allow those that provide the pipes the ability to stifle innovation by strangling application providers and consumers.

      Think about it like this – what if Dominion Virginia had told Google when they were installing servers in Ashburn something to the effect of “hey you guys are making a ton of money and why aren’t we getting a cut for providing electricity to your servers?” (or Akamai, or NetFlix, etc.) Would we allow the big dumb electricity company to hold businesses for ransom? Some businesses need to be regulated as utilities because they’re too important for everyone else, and broadband falls into that category. This is about choosing whether the dumb pipes are more important than all the innovation using that framework. We need to protect innovation instead of protecting an industry that doesn’t want to be a utility.

      The FCC ruling was a start but doesn’t go far enough.  

    • ValerieInRke

      From a few conversations with delegates and senators, I’d say they are mostly clueless about understanding anything close to the Internet subject.