The last week has been a busy one on the net neutrality front, with a cadre of Democratic senators calling on Congress to preserve funding for net neutrality regulations, and the FCC announcing that those regulations, after many months of delay, will be entered into the federal register, thus opening the door for telecom companies to file appeals (Verizon has been chomping at the legal bit ever since their initial appeal was denied).
It's not surprising, then, that Republican officials are showing up on Fox News to get the anti-net neutrality message out. Last Thursday, Republican FCC commissioner Robert McDowell appeared on FoxNews.com's Power Play to discuss net neutrality, and got a big assist from host Chris Stirewalt in spreading misinformation about net neutrality rules.
Early on in the kid-gloved interview, Stirewalt described net neutrality as "the shorthand term for having federal regulations of the internet, FCC regulations of the internet." This is imprecise and, as we'll see in a minute, part of a broader falsehood. Net neutrality rules are not "federal regulations of the internet." They are regulations on internet service providers that prevent them from controlling user access to lawful content and discriminating against content providers.
Moments later, however, Stirewalt described those "regulations" as "the power of the FCC to determine how much bandwidth, how much space on the internet people are allowed to use at any given time" and "scaling your access to space on the internet." This is just plain false. As noted above, the rules prevent government and ISPs from doing exactly that: limiting user access to specific content providers. Stirewalt got it so wrong that McDowell -- an anti-net neutrality Republican official -- had to sort-of correct him: "Well, kind of."
And that is remarkable when you consider that Stirewalt is, nominally at least, a journalist. He is the digital politics editor for FoxNews.com and responsible for producing news content. And yet, his concept of net neutrality is completely backwards from the truth. He was promoting the right-wing falsehood that net neutrality represents a government takeover of the internet and presenting it as "news."
Stirewalt then turned the conversation towards the Fairness Doctrine, leading McDowell to make the popular right-wing argument that net neutrality is a sort of Fairness Doctrine for the internet, in that they both represent "the government regulating speech." That would have been a good moment for Stirewalt to jump in and correct McDowell's suggestion that net neutrality provides for government regulation of legal content on the internet, but, as demonstrated above, Stirewalt's attitude toward the GOP official wasn't what you'd call "combative," and his basic knowledge of the issue is twisted beyond recognition.
The ongoing fight over net neutrality requires competent journalists to assist the public in understanding the arcane terminology and eye-glazing techno-wonkery that can sometimes muddle the discussion. Fox News is not going to fulfill that requirement, but will instead use their megaphone and influence to misinform the public.