One of America's leading authorities on technology and telecom policy, Motley is a writer, television and radio commentator, political and policy strategist, lecturer, debater, activist, and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.
Latest posts by Seton Motley (see all)
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I’ve heard the following quote ascribed to National Basketball Association (NBA) player, coach and executive Pat Riley – but the Internet is not giving up the ghost on provenance to him or anyone else. As I recall, the recitation is: “That player is drowning in Lake Me.”
Meaning a person who is totally self-absorbed. Transfixed by their own navel (which actually has a name – Omphaloskepsis). A person who finds himself endlessly fascinating – and utterly invaluable.
We are all this to some degree – it’s human nature. But some of us are less capable of tamping it down – or masking its all-encompassing nature. Some of us take the occasional dip in Lake Me – others are completely submerged and sinking therein.
Many, MANY of the latter – run for political office. It’s as if the Coast Guard began its Search and Rescue division – to save politicians from themselves.
Over the weekend I started listening to a podcast of the February 24 edition of C-Span’s “The Communicators.” I say I started – because Massachusetts Democrat Senator Ed Markey’s opening salvo was SO Drowning-in-Lake-Me obnoxious I couldn’t continue subjecting myself to it.
The topic of discussion was the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Which was the last time Congress addressed law pertaining to things communications and information – including the then-nascent Internet. The point of the law – and the subsequent policies of the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush Administrations – was to get and keep the government out of the way of the Web.
As nigh always happens when the government leaves something alone – the Internet exploded and proliferated into the free speech-free market Xanadu we all now enjoy. Government stepping aside made room for trillions of dollars of private sector investment – and the endless invention, innovation and reinvention that follows.
Anyone over the age of forty remembers the awful slowness of dial-up connection speeds (for Millennials – it was this). From which the private sector has delivered us – to ridiculously fast broadband speeds. So fast we can now seamlessly watch HD movies wirelessly – either on phone company networks or our own wi-fi set-ups.
This warp-speed increase has made possible a whole host of now-ubiquitous companies that ride these high-tech rails – Google, Netflix, Facebook, Amazon and on, and on, and….
These trillions in private investment have created a trillion-dollar-a-year economy. This amazing, all-time-in-human-history success story is the result of intentional government inaction – not government action.
Yet somehow Senator Markey has a bizarrely different perspective on what has transpired these last twenty years. Asked “What did you get right in 1996?” – Markey launched:
“Well, we reinvented the world we live in, for all intents and purposes.”
No, Senator – you and your government cohorts did no such thing. You got the heck out of the way – which allowed the private sector to reinvent the world. Because that’s what the private sector does. Government does – ObamaCare, the Post Office, the Veterans Administration, Benghazi,.…
“Not one house in America had broadband when that bill was signed by President Clinton. Today for a twelve-year-old boy or girl in America they believe it’s a Constitutional right to have a 50-inch HD screen in their living room and that they would be left behind.”
A bit of idea-and-thus-word-salad there. You aren’t left behind anything if you are bereft of a 50-inch HD screen. But “left behind” is a government-Internet talking point – so he in-artfully, inaccurately threw it in here. (Let’s leave aside the uber-government-school-failure that is 12-year-olds thinking a TV is a Constitutional right – and a United States Senator’s willingness to accommodate and pander to this inanity.)
“Before the Act passed we lived in an analog world, we lived in a dial-up world. We had to move. We had to move to broadband, we had to move to digital. So what we did was we created a digital free-for-all in that bill. Where every company could do everything.”
In the private sector, every company can do everything – unless and until government says they can’t. All the Act did was stay out of the company-limiting business. (A practice the Barack Obama Administration is most unfortunately, most violently reversing – in direct violation of the Act.)
“And that telescoped the timeframe that it took in order to deploy fiber all across our country – to create the capacity so that all of these new companies could be created. So that words like Google and Hulu and YouTube are part of the culture today. But they were impossible to be created before the Act.”
Yes, because the Act cleared out of the way most of the existing government impediments to the private sector. Government only accelerated the deployment of fiber and its capacity – by removing itself from the equation. And thereby allowing the private sector to accelerate the deployment of fiber and its capacity.
“So we got a lot right. Nothing is perfect.”
Correct – there is almost always more government you can make less.
“But one thing we did do was we moved not only our own country but the world from analog to digital. And if you’re living in India or China you’re now using the words that were created – including Twitter and Facebook – that would not be possible without that bill.”
No, Senator, the private sector that invested trillions here – invested trillions more everywhere else. Thereby exporting to the world the magic they themselves created here.
Senator Markey and his government ilk did nothing for the Internet – except leave it alone. But now wants to take all the credit – for doing absolutely nothing. And simply allowing the private sector to do what the private sector does.
In auto racing, there is a speed-limiting device placed on engines – called a governor. Government is little more than a speed-limiter of the private sector. The bigger the government – the bigger the governor, the slower the economy.
Limiting as much as possible the governor – is certainly important. Then taking near-complete credit for the cars and drivers subsequently winning the Daytona and Indianapolis 500s, and races all over the world – is delusional Drowning-in-Lake-Me bizarre-ness.
I would really like a piece of the concession on Capitol Hill life preservers.