Who Is This Net Neutrality Weed Whacker?

by Bill McClellan on Feb 8, 2017 3:00:00 PM Government Relations

President Trump just promoted FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. ERA and our member companies look forward to working with him in the years ahead to ensure our country has good public policy solutions that move our nation forward. 


While congratulations are in order for Chairman Pai and we wish good luck with the new role, there is one little problem with this appointment that must be pointed out.  It turns out that Commissioner Pai is something of an amateur gardener.  While a noble pastime, gardening can also be tricky and caution should be encouraged for a man with such an important new role.  In fact, from all of the reports I have seen to date, it is clear that Commissioner Pai should resist his green thumb urges and leave all of the weed whacking to the professional gardeners at least until the conclusion of his time at the FCC.

The Weed Wacker

I must confess that in my younger years I spent a great deal of time whacking weeds.  In fact I consider myself something of an expert on this topic.  Growing up we had massive gardens that needed a lot of tender loving care. Of course my parents “voluntold” me that this was an excellent fit for my particular talents during that time frame of my life.

The rest as they say is history.

Little did I expect this gardening expertise to become useful again as an industry advocate for the ERA.  Imagine my surprise when my eye caught a headline saying that President Trump had named Chairman Pai to take a “weed whacker” to net neutrality. I immediately thought to myself that this would make the perfect mashup for a blog post.

As a semi-pro weed whacker (retired) who knows all about Net Neutrality I have to take issue with the Chairman’s horticultural judgment.  Net Neutrality is no weed that needs whacking at all.  Let me explain.


Why Net Neutrality Should Not Be Whacked    

The historical record goes a little like this: Years ago, pre-Obama administration, the issue of Net Neutrality was on fire. ERA members were concerned that Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast would force companies to pay up to reach our shared customers.  At the time AT&T’s CEO Ed Whitacre launched a thousand policy debates when he answered the following question.


How concerned are you about Internet upstarts like Google (GOOG ), MSN, Vonage, and others?

How do you think they're going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is to use my pipes for free, but I ain't going to let them do that. We have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there's going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! (YHOO ) or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

For year’s this battle raged until the inauguration of President Obama. Soon after, his appointments at the FCC ruled on the issue against the broadband providers and the marketplace has seen years and years of calm.  The ecosystem has flourished and grown strong.  Retailers can reach their customers online without paying an ISP toll. You can watch video on a smartphone.  The visible benefits are real and go on and on and have been a great boom for jobs and our nation as a whole.  

Playing with a weed whacker in this robust ecosystem is a real threat and the wrong whack could have real consequences in the years ahead.  Chairman Pai on behalf of ERA and all direct response marketers I publicly urge you to take a step back from the gardening tools and rethink better ways to create harmony with all of the growing things in the garden.  Take it from an old pro like me, sometimes it is hard to differentiate between the weeds and what will become beautiful flowers with the right appreciation and care.  


Bill McClellan.jpgBill McClellan joined ERA in January 2003 as director of government affairs. Prior to joining the association, Bill worked as a lobbyist at the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association, covering the state legislature and Georgia's congressional delegation. Before working for the GADA, Bill managed political campaigns at both the congressional and state constitutional levels

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The statements, opinions, and advertisements expressed on the ERA Blog and other online entities owned by the Electronic Retailing Association are those of individual authors and companies and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Electronic Retailing Association.