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In Push to Legislate Net Neutrality, Chuck Schumer Invokes Bad Traffic Metaphor

"Let the free market prevail," says the Senate minority leader. “We don’t do that for highways.” Which explains traffic jams and failing infrastructure...

Nick GillespieNick GillespieEarlier this year, the Trump administration repealed the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission (FCC) "Open Internet Order," colloquially known as "Net Neutrality." These rules were put in place ostensibly to keep internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile carriers from blocking and throttling legal content, charging you an arm and leg with every passing month, and favoring their own in-house content over material provided by other people. In less-idealistic language, it gave the government an unfettered right to regulate the business models of ISPs and mobile carriers. The plain fact is that for the past 25 years, our collective internet experience has continued to grow in the number of connections we have, the speed and reliability of those connections, and the range of material and experiences we can access online. As current FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai once told Reason, Net Neutrality "is a solution that won't work to a problem that doesn't exist."

But Net Neutrality, like a good comic-book villain or just about any government program, never really dies. It just gets vanquished for a certain period of time, lies in wait, and then returns with a vengeance. Senate Democrats (and one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine) are now pushing for a "vote of disapproval" that would invalidate the FCC's repeal. While reinstating Net Neutrality rules would be a very bad idea—do you really want to give Donald Trump and the government more power over the internet?—it's right and proper that Congress should be deciding whether the FCC even has the right to regulate the internet.

Although the FCC is technically an independent agency within the executive branch, Congress does have the right to clarify its intentions about the laws that govern those agencies under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which is designed to reel in the powers of the "administrative state." To the extent that the CRA removes a huge amount of discretion from the executive branch and federal agencies to set policy independent of the laws Congress passes, it's a good thing. However you feel about Net Neutrality, it's clear that regulating the Internet should not simply be up to the whim of a particular commissioner or presidential administration. Indeed, that was one of the arguments against the manner in which the FCC under Obama appointee Tom Wheeler passed The Open Internet Order of 2015. It simply reclassified the internet from an "information service" to a "telecommunications service" under federal law, thus granting itself the power to regulate business practices in a way that had been ruled illegal in previous court cases. Congress should be making that call, not a federal agency.

So yes to the Senate, the world's greatest collection of snoozy lazy bones who don't have a fucking clue as to what Facebook is and can't seem to pass real legislation any more (especially if it involves declaring war or passing actual spending bills), actually doing some work. But all you need to know about how wrong Senate Democrats are about Net Neutrality is this quote from Minority Leader Schumer:

"Our Republican friends say 'let the free market prevail,' " said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) "We don't do that for highways."

Let the record show that Sen. Schumer comes from New York City, a place synonymous with the worst traffic jams this side of Moscow and Los Angeles and home to legendarily failing, publicly funded infrastructure boondoggles. A $4 billion subway station? Check. Jacking up prices by 50 percent when bidding on city projects? Sure. Losing $20 billion a year to congestion? Why not? An impending year-plus shutdown of a subway that might kill Brooklyn's renaissance? Right here, buddy.

To the extent that we don't let markets operate when it comes to roads, we reliably and predictably get two equally frustrating outcomes: lots of empty roads where nobody needs them and lots of congestion and snarls in places where people drive. If you're interested in how bringing all sorts of obvious, transparent, and regulated market systems to highways and other forms of transportation can solve traffic problems, go here (Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this site, also runs a great policy shop on this very topic). FFS, even Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is nobody ideas of an anarcho-capitalist, is talking about congestion-pricing for Manhattan.

But we're talking about Net Neutrality, or regulating traffic on the Information Superhighway, not just how annoying it is to drive in Chuck Schumer's New York. ISPs and, increasingly, mobile carriers, are businesses that build out capacity and come up with all sorts of ways to accommodate more and more online traffic. There is indeed a physical infrastructure to the internet but it's easier to expand than roads, especially in response to increased and peak demand. On top of that, technology keeps improving so you can get better bandwidth with older infrastructure in a way that doesn't analogize to bridges, tunnels, and highways. Consider this, from the FCC:

From 2012 to 2014, the number of Americans without access to both fixed terrestrial broadband and mobile broadband fell by more than half—from 72.1 million to 34.5 million....But the pace was nearly three times slower after the [net neutrality rules were imposed], with only 13.9 million Americans newly getting access to both over the next two years.

As of year-end 2016, 92.3% of all Americans have access to fixed terrestrial broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, up from 89.4% in 2014 and 81.2% in 2012.

Things keep getting faster online. And then there's the emergence of 5G technologies, which will render what's left of the Net Neutrality debate moot. Net Neutrality supporters are quick to point out that many ISPs have effective monopolies or duopolies on the "last mile" of internet, potentially creating a choke point that could be exploited by providers to jack up prices. That hasn't happened, of course, and according to FCC data, access to faster and more connections continues to increase. Building off existing 4G LTE networks, 5G, writes Business Insider,

offers incredibly fast wireless communication that can be used to transmit all sorts of data. It won't replace cables entirely, but for some applications and industries, it could replace the need for them.

Apart from fast mobile networks, 5G will also be used to deliver internet to your home. Its speed is also suited for upcoming technologies, such as providing a continuous stream of data required for many self-driving-car systems.

Both ATT and Verizon have announced plans to roll out 5G this year, which will bring the sort of customer-benefting competition we've seen among mobile carriers to all ISPs.

It will be darkly ironic, of course, if Congress decides to impose Net Neutrality rules on the internet just as the main issue those regs seek to address—perceived lack of competition among ISPs—is solved by technological advances. Darkly ironic, yes, but hardly rare. Like generals, bureaucrats and politicians are usually fighting the last war, working overtime to take down real-and-imagined threats at the very moment when particular companies and technologies are being swept into the dustbin of history.

A few weeks ago, I debated Net Neutrality with Tom Wheeler, the FCC commissioner who issued the 2015 Open Internet Order, and Mozilla's Mitchell Baker. My teammate was former FCC chief economist Michael Katz and the host organization was the excellent and wonderful Intelligence Squared. Go here for full details and background.

Click below to watch the debate.

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  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    Alt alt text: Thumbs out...head in.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Wouldn't have dared use that alt text for a black politician.

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    Wouldn't have thought twice about it.

  • Microaggressor||

    What's the deal with Nick drawing red lines around people?

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    He's a secret Obama supporter.

  • Sevo||

    Somebody's kid showed him how to open Paint.

  • Flinch||

    Follow the bouncing maoist?

  • John||

    The fact that the Democrats are so fanatical about an issue that resonates with very few people is pretty strong evidence that Net Neutrality is one hell of a threat to free speech and freedom.

  • Microaggressor||

    It's just a blatant attempt at regulatory capture for bandwidth hogs. Follow the money.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    It resonates with people who like Netflix and hate Comcast, which is anyone with a glancing (but no deeper than that) understanding of the issues.

  • John||

    I guess so. But I doubt it resonates enough to cause many people to change their vote because of it. I seriously doubt many people who would have otherwise voted Republican or not voted are now voting Democrat because of this issue. It is a really strange issue to get this worked up about.

  • Microaggressor||

    The useful idiots have been whipped up into a fear of their favorite content being blocked or throttled by their ISP. The people who fall for this are the people who don't understand market forces. Which is why libertarians have been feeling so alone in their opposition.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Look, the Internet is just a series of tubes. If we let tube providers charge extra for big balls going through the tubes, then little balls will get a free ride. Does anyone wanna give a free ride to little balls?

  • ||

    Look, the Internet is just a series of tubes.

    I took Schumer's analogy to highways as an indication that his understanding of the internet stopped progressing back during the "Information Superhighway" era which is still a decade before the 'series of tubes' era.

  • esteve7||

    and yet schumer is probably fine with carpool lanes on the highway

    god these people never should be in power. ever

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Tony?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Winston's mom?

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    "Does anyone wanna give a free ride to little balls?"

    In order for the Hitler thing to work, it would have to be little ball.

    Do you even know how this thing works brah?

  • Flinch||

    I think what Chuck is offering is...free messenger pigeon service as part of a contract with any ISP?

  • Procyon Rotor||

    The flurry of outrage over ending Net Neutrality is very similar to the flurry of outrage over imposing SOPA and PIPA, as far as I've seen. There have been a lot of similar site blackouts and pop-ups claiming "You'll never see your favorite websites again if we lose NN! Write your Congressperson now!" The fact that NN is government regulating the internet, just like SOPA and PIPA would have been, seems completely lost on these people.

  • Sevo||

    "...colloquially known as "Net Neutrality.""

    "Dishonestly" is misspelled here.

  • Flinch||

    Chuck made himself clear: "We don't do that for highways" means... his dream is to turn the internet into nothing but a toll road, and jam us all up like being on any new england area turnpike during rush hour. The embedded debate of Nicks article won't rate a footnote once regulators get ahold of Chucks bill, should it pass and become law.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    As of year-end 2016, 92.3% of all Americans have access to fixed terrestrial broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps

    Yeah, but most of those people are stuck getting access through the evil Comcast empire.

  • Old Mexican - Mostly Harmless||

    "Our Republican friends say 'let the free market prevail,' " said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) "We don't do that for highways."


    Sure, in the same way that the Soviet Union didn't do that for cars, bread or feminine hygiene products, with the expected results.

    Leaving aside for a minute the misconceived comparison between computer networks and highways, the senator's assertion is a classic case of begging the question, as he first assumes that roads cannot be managed by a market before making the assertion that networks should not be left to market forces.

  • Microaggressor||

    Likewise Bernie and deodorant.

    Nobody needs fast lanes when children are bandwidth hungry in this country.

  • Sevo||

    "Likewise Bernie and deodorant."

    Of all the possible examples he could have picked, the dim-bulb picks deodorant!

  • Sufi||

    "Nobody needs fast lanes when children are bandwidth hungry in this country."

    Ha Ha!

  • The Last American Hero||

    Do you know what would happen if we left roads to the free market?

    There would be potholes everywhere, the cost overruns on even simple projects would make your head spin, things would never get done on time, and people would spend hours every week sitting in gridlock.

    What's next, you gonna go after education?

  • Old Mexican - Mostly Harmless||

    A few weeks ago, I debated Net Neutrality with Tom Wheeler, the FCC commissioner who issued the 2015 Open Internet Order, and Mozilla's Mitchell Baker.


    Did you win?

  • ||

    Technically, yes. If I remember correctly, Nick's side picked up nine percentage points from the undecideds while the other side retained their sixty percent.

  • μ Aggressor||

    Nick had no hope of swaying the other side's 60%; it might as well be a cult, facts be damned

  • Flinch||

    You have to prepare bumper sticker brains for a breakout. Something small like a few well placed 'Chuck Sucks' stickers in the parking lot as people arrived might have helped? Whatever discussions were years ago, things have morped into an empty picture frame these days: say "net neutrality" and that 60% will not listen, but fill it with their imaginations.

  • Sufi||

    That's only the percent at the event Nick spoke at. In larger polls it was up to 8 out of 10 Americans opposed to what Pai did.

  • Sevo||

    Sufi|5.10.18 @ 7:32PM|#
    "That's only the percent at the event Nick spoke at. In larger polls it was up to 8 out of 10 Americans opposed to what Pai did."

    That's the reason there is a constitution; to keep them and idiots like you from harming things.

  • ||

    All data is created equal... except Russian data, it's evil.

  • Rossami||

    Good for those Democrats who are finally waking up to their responsibility to oversee administrative bureaucracies. I still think Congress tied their own hands unnecessarily with the wording of the CRA but at least they are finally exerting a smidgen of their proper authority and responsibility.

    Now if they could only pick a proper target. Reinstating net neutrality is the exact opposite of what they should be doing to rein in the unaccountable bureaucracy.

  • BYODB||

    I'm a little confused though, since the original diktat was from the Politiburo so what 'clarification' on what 'law' is the Senate trying to assert their authority on?

    From the Washington Post article:

    The senators are pushing forward the resolution under what's known as the Congressional Review Act, a law that permits Congress to review — and reject — administrative decisions by federal agencies. In this case, the resolution (or CRA, for short) would overturn the FCC's repeal vote, effectively bringing back the net neutrality rules and making it harder for the agency to attempt to repeal them again.

    So...wait a minute. The congressional review act means that they can insist that an arbitrary rule of the unelected political class must stay in force absent a law? That...is not how I really expected the CRA to work and it seems like the exact opposite of what it was actually intended to do.

  • BYODB||


    "Our Republican friends say 'let the free market prevail,' " said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) "We don't do that for highways."


    Umm...I guess Schumer isn't aware that plenty of cities do indeed have private firms doing their roads these days. Oh well! Just one more thing on the list of infinite things that Schumer doesn't understand or willfully misunderstands.

  • Sufi||

    Just like privately built for profit prisons. BAD IDEA!!!!

  • BILKER||

    "do indeed have private firms doing their roads these days. " hey if it weren't for this happening pelosi and feinstein would only have their vineyards and salmon farms in the sacramento delta to keep them being multi Billionaires.

  • RogerNorthup||

    This is the second time I've heard that analogy, and I'm confused...because here on many of the major highways in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, we have limited-access traffic lanes that are separated from the main traffic, that we can choose take for a fee. The fee is posted on an active screen, and it changes depending on traffic conditions. During rush hour, it can cost a couple of bucks or more. During low traffic times, it might be 40 cents or less. I've taken it a few times when I HAD to be somewhere soon, but usually I'm happy to fight through the traffic to save a few pennies. Maybe Chuck hasn't driven a car enough to know anything about highways.

  • RogerNorthup||

    And they might not be from the true free market, but they definitely are 'highways' that 'charge more' for 'faster service', which helps all of us a little bit.

  • Sufi||

    I have no problem with ISP's charging premium prices for premium services like 5G and gigabit. I just think they should keep their hands off existing broadband instead of being given freedom to throttle and impose new fees on it.

  • Sevo||

    "I just think they should keep their hands off existing broadband instead of being given freedom to throttle and impose new fees on it."

    Good for you. Now admit you want the government to start controlling the internet.

  • DesigNate||

    I was just gonna say the same thing.

    Although there's nothing worse than getting on DNT and paying to sit in wall to wall traffic.

  • Sufi||

    Good point but bad analogy. Few people need that 4 GB movie in 4 minutes rather than 40. It's not like you have to sit there chained to your computer while the download happens.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    If something like this passes, if I'm Pai the first thing I do is mandate that content over the internet be regulated exactly like it is over the radio and television airwaves. That means every porn site gets shut down immediately. Websites that use "fuck" or "shit" get fined, and multiple violations result in those sites being perma-banned. The CEO of Tits for HBO, Showtime, Starz, and Cinemax will all be out of a job. Netflix won't be allowed to show glorified softcore porn series like "Versailles" anymore without significant scene cuts. Anything above the rating of PG-13 will have to be heavily edited for content.

    These Net Neutrality morons actually believe that an agency which has been restricting content on over-the-air mediums for decades will keep the internet wide open. Pai ought to disabuse them of that notion.

  • Sufi||

    Except the internet is international so US regulation can't be imposed on off shore accounts very easily.

  • Nuwanda||

    A local TV station couldn't claim immunity from the FCC regs simply by relaying an international broadcast. It's responsible for what it allows to be carried over its service.

    Same for internet. At some point the data enters the US internet system, and someone owns that point, that infrastructure. They also become responsible.

    It's kinda fun to pretend to be a regulator; just let your mind go wild.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    Except the internet is international so US regulation can't be imposed on off shore accounts very easily.

    Nonsense. If Google can help China block content, and if Middle Eastern countries can shut down social media sites, the US is more than capable of doing what it wants.

    Don't demand more regulation and act as if the power to enforce it beyond what you imagined doesn't exist.

  • jonnysage||

    "it's right and proper that Congress should be deciding whether the FCC even has the right to regulate the internet."

    You lost me here. It's not Congress that decides who has regulatory power. It's the people and the states and I don't remember giving the federal government the power to regulate communication.

  • Sufi||

    Congress has always had the power to approve or reject any proposal by the FCC. It;s just few decisions the FCC has made are this controversial so most people don't know that.

  • Sufi||

    Not clear the way the thread is displayed but my above comment was in response to:

    "So...wait a minute. The congressional review act means that they can insist that an arbitrary rule of the unelected political class must stay in force absent a law? That...is not how I really expected the CRA to work and it seems like the exact opposite of what it was actually intended to do."

    Yes it' always worked that way!

  • jonnysage||

    And when did WE give Congress the power to create the FCC?

  • jabster||

    Muh dialup!

  • Sufi||

    *EXACTLY*

  • Sufi||

    This is all about 5G wireless, gigabit wired/fiber. 5G and gigabit are extremely expensive technologies to implement so in order to pay for them the internet utilities need to charge a premium. Verizon is the only company which already has a home 5G plan in a few areas and they are charging $256 a month.
    Reclassifying the internet from an "information service" to a "telecommunications service" is lame. Telecommunications is extinct. Most people use internet i.e. VoIP, skype, cell phones, not telephones! The telephone companies that are left are also ISP's and offer DSL and satellite TV just like the cable companies.

    This is throwing us back into the stone age and justifying it using the Republican battle cry to too much government regulation. Actually if you take the time to read the entire language Wheeler passed as I did, you may agree with me. 8 out of 10 Americans agreed with Obama/Wheeler at the time. Sure the ISP's should get to charge more for special new services like 5G and gigabit, but not supplement the losses they will take rolling them out by throttling the existing infrastructure and implementing any new price hikes on that existing infrastructure they see fit. Pai's ruling on the one hand allows these supposedly "wonderful" new technologies to be built but on the other hand also allows ISP's to pay for building them at a steep cost to consumers who aren't even interested in having those technologies.

  • Sevo||

    All of this is just a long admission that you want the government top control the internet, and fix prices.
    Fuck off, slaver.

  • LifeStrategies||

    This article could have also mentioned the New York City park bathroom that cost $2 million to build which John Stossel investigated. see

    http://reason.com/reasontv/201.....r-bathroom

  • RockLibertyWarrior||

    God I fucking hate Chuck the Schmuck, the fact that idiots keep voting in this corrupt, megalomaniacal control freak shows the stupidity of New Yorkers. The thing is, this guy is a complete idiot, when he uses that stupid analogy of highways maybe he should look at the congestion and traffic jams on public roads caused by stupid government policy. Fuck him, I wish he'd choke to death on a gallon of energy drink mixed with sugary soda, fucking asshole.

  • Flinch||

    I recall banks lobbied for years to get bankruptcy laws changed, knowing the real estate bubble was coming. They got what they paid for, as the public was disconnected from a barometr for derivaties. Who needs M3 anyway, right? It was just a master signal for banks... until the derivatives market got too big to politically afford exposing the amount of risk in leveraged instruments supporitng congress sitting behind its self gifted 'insider trading' exemption. So who is lined up behnd Schumer and company with their "free" lunches? The big telcos,/cable companies of course - anybody in the ISP business. Gee... I wonder why.
    Nobody I know in the last decade has espoused anything like what DC considers "net neutrality" as a concern pro or con. All I've seen is east coast/tech media slavering and corporate signaling. Zero chance Chucky and his fellow flim flammers is up to anything but no good, and like the orignal concept of NAFTA, whatever 'net neutrality' may have meant [to denizens of Silicon valley a decade ago] has arrived... in the twilight zone..

  • SC Striebeck||

    "Net Seizure" is more like it!

    The internet is just a modern soap box or paper on steroids.

    So, this is more about setting the table for regulating speech and cartelizing communiations than highways and traffic jams - a twofer by statist standards.

    And not to mention, that Shumer's moronic analogy is indicative of just how ignorant or fraudulent such politicans can be, and another one of the infinite number of reasons why government should be completely deconstructed and forever abolished.

    But, these are predictable outcomes.

    Our system of governance favors the perpetuation of power with no or very slow checks and balances relative to a market-based system for governmental services which better and more quickly curbs the accumulation of waste, inefficiency, graft and mass injustice inherent to governance based on force and theft.

    Until such fundamental change is critically demanded and occurs, we'll be fighting all flavors of statism on the never-ending seesaw of emotion and half applied principles.

    So, let's bone-up on the Declaration of Independence and AnCap, then burn that seesaw to ground. The upside is huge.

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