Steve Bannon is showing how much of a fan of free speech he is by apparently suggesting Facebook and Google should be regulated like a utility company. The Intercept_ reports Bannon thinks it’s time to do the utility regulations because of how important the sites have become to everyone’s lives.
Bannon’s basic argument, as he has outlined it to people who’ve spoken with him, is that Facebook and Google have become effectively a necessity in contemporary life. Indeed, there may be something about an online social network or a search engine that lends itself to becoming a natural monopoly, much like a cable company, a water and sewer system, or a railroad. The sources recounted the conversations on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give the accounts on record, and could face repercussions for doing so…
Regulating a company as a utility does not mean that the government controls it, but rather that it is much more tightly regulated in what it is able to do and prices it is able to charge. And it doesn’t mean every element of the company would be regulated in that way. For Google — which now calls itself Alphabet and has already conveniently broken itself up into discrete elements — it may only be the search function that would be regulated like a utility.
The report does note the FCC is currently in the process of reversing the Obama Administration’s net neutrality plan, which would have turned ISPs into utilities, and thank Odin for that. The local cronyism which came as companies like AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner, etc. made deals with municipalities, and made it onerous for start-up Internet providers to operate is as rotten as a week-old gutted fish. But getting more government involvement in the Internet is beyond ridiculous, regardless of the Internet’s origins.
The scary part of this is there are people on the left who are supporting the idea. Brian Feldman at New York magazine’s select/all blog called it a good idea.
Bannon’s thinking about Google and Facebook closely tracks ideas on the left (and some factions of the right) about antitrust, monopoly, and access. If he wanted to push hard for this, he could likely find some bipartisan support in Congress, and certainly among tech activists.
Feldman also sees Bannon’s proposal as just a way to make sure private entities, like Facebook and Google, don’t filter out some of the alt-right stuff that’s floating around on the ‘Net. He also doesn’t believe it will even see the light of day because of the deregulation going on inside the FCC.
What’s interesting is that Feldman is okay with Bannon’s idea, he just wishes it wasn’t Bannon who proposed it. This falls in line with some of those on both sides, who castigate Nazis or Communists for coming up with proposals, then quickly rush to support a similar one proposed by someone whose ideology is closer to their own. It’s the tired old, “my side is better at wielding big government’s power, than your side is, so go jump into the lake” routine. Both parties have used it for decades, and it will probably remain a part of politics until Ragnarok or Jesus’ return happens (whichever comes first).
A reminder to everyone regarding Facebook and Google: there are other social media outlets and search engines out there. There’s Twitter, GAB, and MySpace (I still get emails from them for some reason), plus LinkedIn, and Slack. Yahoo! Search, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Quora, etc. Technology is changing so rapidly, there’s no guarantee Google and Facebook will be the major players out there in ten, let alone, five years. There’s no reason for the government to start regulating these like utilities, even if it seems like a good idea.
The fact this is even a story shows the issue will rear its ugly head in the future. Former President Barack Obama liked to point out Heritage Foundation looked into universal health care in the 80’s. Cato and other think tanks have debated a universal wage. I’m sure a Democrat will propose regulating Facebook and Google, or whatever replaces them, in the future. It’s shouldn’t matter who proposes the policy, but this anti-freedom/anti-free speech/anti-free market idea needs to be rejected.