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March 21, 2018

Anti-Net Neutrality? Follow the Money.

It’s time for a field trip! Before we take a special excursion to the Political Olympics today, let’s try a little experiment. Listen carefully.

“Net neutrality.”

Did your eyes glaze over? Are you checking your phone? Hey, you in the back of the bus – eyes forward!

It’s a problem. And I’m going to resist the temptation to slip into wonkiness and lose you. Because it’s too important of an issue to lose you and there are plenty of places you can go if you want to get into the weeds of net neutrality.

The bottom line is that your Internet Service Providers would like to figure out how to make more money, which means that the money they want to make will come from somewhere, namely you. So, they’d like to charge you more to give you Netflix, or Hulu, or YouTube, or any number of sites. And they’d also like to be able to make your church’s website, or small local newspaper, or The Mudflats run slower than sites that can pony up big money to get fast speeds. Some sites could be blocked altogether. I don’t think most people want this – certainly not consumers, and not local businesses that can’t fork over those big bucks for access.

This issue, as you may realize, is not partisan. It’s not political. You may be agreeing that no one in their right mind would think that putting these limits on the internet is wise, particularly those who believe in any of the following: free speech, religious freedom, the marketplace of ideas, the free market, capitalism, public utilities, and the American dream itself.

Who would?

The answer is: those who stand to profit from these anti-democratic limitations, AND those who profit from those who profit. Need an example? I refer you to Representative Chris Birch (who is now attempting to become Senator Chris Birch).

There was a meeting of the House Labor & Commerce Committee the other day, where Rep. Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks) introduced his bill HB277 which would require that all internet service providers in Alaska adhere to the practice of net neutrality – to make sure all data on the internet is treated equally, to protect small local businesses in the state from uncompetetive practices, and to let you free-range browse just like you do now. It takes the recent FCC federal ruling decimating net neutrality, and neutralizes it, if you will.

Net neutrality has created the most free and open marketplace in history, allowing consumers to pick the winners and losers. And this bill seeks to keep it.

What’s not to love, right?

I couldn’t help but notice that during the course of the meeting, Rep. Birch really became taken with the Olympic spirit. His sport? Mental gymnastics. It may not be an actual Olympic event, but in the political Olympics it’s one of the old original ones. And Rep. Birch is about to go for the gold!


Let’s you and me be the commentators on this event, shall we? He’s heard all about the bill from Rep. Kawasaki and his staff, and now his comments to the committee are about to start.

[speaking in hushed tones for those at home]

ME: Ok, Birch is about to begin his routine. And remember, this is not about facts; mental gymnastics has a huge artistic and emotional component.

YOU: That’s right. The judges will be taking that heavily into consideration.

BIRCH: Now I’ve lived in Alaska a long time. I remember when we had rotary dial phones and I’d call my sister in Japan and it was like $5 a minute…

ME: Ohhhh… he starts right off with how long he’s lived in Alaska, and a personal connection to his sister. This is a strong start right out of the gate!

YOU: Yes, and the appeal to nostalgia with the rotary dial phone. The judges will notice that. Nice touch.

BIRCH: And what did 50 plus years of regulation in the phone industry get us? Nothing!

ME: Wow. Hyperbole and false equivalence. You can really tell all his practice in the Anchorage Assembly has paid off!

BIRCH: After deregulation, prices went down and there were calling cards, and all kinds of innovation. The explosive growth we’ve seen in the internet has been a result of that deregulation. The competetive forces that enable us to compete one provider against another.

YOU: He knows this crowd, and he’s showing that right now. He’s using those buzzwords to full effect – deregulation, lowering prices. You can see him really reaching on this. He’s stretching himself…

ME: Yes and “competitive forces.” These all speak to his conservative base, and he’s going for the dog whistles even though he’s right now comparing apples to oranges. A brilliant and risky move. Is he going to speak AGAINST net neutrality?

BIRCH: I see this legislation as a step backwards.

Notice the strength it takes to hold this position and remain smug at the same time!

YOU and ME: [GASP!]

YOU: A completely unfounded assertion based solely on his own objectives. A Republican legislator out there slamming the principles of the free market and assuming nobody will connect the dots. I think he’s got the mental gymnastics hands-down. I’ll go out on a limb and say this is a gold medal performance.

ME: And he really does seem to believe himself, which is so important to the judges. Look at that. He’s maintained a totally straight face. His discipline is really incredible. And the expression on his face. It’s almost smug, wouldn’t you say?

BIRCH: I think what we’re doing is we’re trying to restore back to 2015. I’m worried that if we try to Balkanize ISPs and have a different model here than we do somewhere else, … I mean you don’t Balkanize Alaska, you have a uniform pattern with everywhere else.

ME: Ohhh, there’s his first bobble. He’s relying not only on his audience’s knowledge of the Balkans, but he’s using it as a verb, and also implying that Alaska has to do things the same way as the Lower 48. That has not worked for anyone in the past. We’ll see if the judges ding him on that combination.

YOU: Here comes the big finish. What else has he got up his sleeve?

ME: Let’s watch…

BIRCH: I think we’re ignoring the power of the consumer. I have multiple choices about where to buy a box of cereal. I can go to Carr’s or Fred Meyer. If someone is out of line pricewise, I can address this by making a choice by going where I’m better treated. I’m concerned that we’ll eliminate some of that competition, that investment is necessary in a competetive marketplace. Good things don’t happen when the government starts regulating how and when you get your internet.

ME: And he sticks the landing! That last routine was just… breathtaking.

YOU: I’ve never seen anything like it. He has really shown he is the king of mental gymnastics! Did you hear that false equivalence again? Comparing buying cereal to the free and open marketplace of ideas? And he finished strong with the classic move of arguing a case that isn’t being made. I don’t even know what to say.

ME: I think everyone has been left completely bewildered. What a stellar performance. And the results are in!

He’s got a 9.85 from the BS judge!

And a perfect 10 from the Flim-Flamarian judge. Wow!

The judge from the Unified Republics of Confusion and Dismay – a 9.85!

A 9.75 from Balderdash.

And finally the judge from the Kingdom of Crapola – another perfect 10!

This is one for the ages!


And while we all watched, gobsmacked that he was somehow trying to make this about competition between ISPs instead of about consumers like you and me being able to have equal access to products and ideas, and deciding ourselves which ones we liked, Rep. Andy Josephson spoke up.


REP. ANDY JOSEPHSON: I’m confused because I think Representative Birch is actually making the argument FOR this bill…  Rep. Birch talked about going to a store where he’ll get better treatment, or he’ll have more options but what the FCC did was create inequality of options. Am I right about that? It seems like this bill is a conservative bill to keep things on an even field, and open the market. Is that correct?

Rep. Josephson, like all of us, is baffled.

Yes, yes it is. So, what on earth just happened?

Remember the Olympics isn’t just about the score and the technical part of the program. We need some emotional backstory. We want to know the motivation behind the bewildering performance of this full-of-malarky “representative of the people” who went out there in Labor & Commerce to combat common sense, and the principles of the open market, with a straight face, treating people like they’re stupid.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. They also say follow the money. Sometimes, we’re lucky enough to have both. Here’s the document from the Alaska Public Offices Commission that shows where Rep. Birch is getting his money and who is throwing him fundraisers.

How about that. Telecoms, internet service providers… they’re all there.

It’s just so much more enlightening when you get into the heart of the athlete – the cold, money-grubbing heart of the true sell-out.

But wait, you say. GCI and the other Alaskan providers said they won’t enforce any of these new parameters. They will still honor net neutrality. For reals. And to this I say, perhaps they should join the Bullshit Olympics in the “I’ve got a bridge to nowhere to sell you” category.

And just to make it perfectly clear what’s happening, telecom lobbyists have been roaming the halls of Juneau trying to influence legislators to vote against your interest and kill net neutrality. That’s the side of things the public doesn’t see, but makes it crystal clear why your involvement and input is so important.

In brighter news, Senate Joint Resolution 12 from Sen. Bill Wielechowski urging our congressiona delegation to vote to overturn the FCC ruling on net neutrality on the federal level  just moved out of the Labor & Commerce committee with wide bipartisan support. Now it’s on to the State Affairs committee before heading to the Senate floor for a vote.

If you believe in a free and open internet, here’s what you can do:

  1. Add your name to this list of net neutrality supporters by clicking HERE. Your opinion will be added as public testimony, and your opinion will be known to every Representative and Senator in the Alaska legislature before they vote.
  2. Contact Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and tell them to vote to repeal the FCC’s ruling killing net neutrality.

And let’s have a standing O for these folks who are working for the best interest of Alaskans – Democrats AND Republicans.

HB277 cosponsors: REPRESENTATIVES KAWASAKI, Parish, Tuck, Fansler, Drummond, Gara, Kreiss-Tomkins, Spohnholz

SB160 cosponsors: SENATORS BEGICH, Wielechowski, Gardner, Hughes, Costello, Wilson, Stevens

Remember, in a political world where issues are often hyper-partisan, there are some issues like net neutrality where opposition will tell you exactly where someone stands. And it’s not with you.



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