MSNBC host Ali Velshi on Thursday said that former Federal Communications Commission head Robert McDowell's references to the "legalese" of internet statutes made for unfair conversation about net neutrality rules.
McDowell argued that the Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Act, and the Sherman Act all provided a regulatory framework to keep the internet free and open prior to the Obama administration imposing net neutrality rules in early 2015, which the Trump administration rescinded Thursday with an FCC vote.
When Velshi described how the deregulation that will follow the vote may allow internet service providers to harm their customers, McDowell argued that the scenarios Velshi described would actually violate preexisting regulations.
"To hear people talk today you'd think the internet started in February 2015 with Title II. That's not the case," McDowell said.
Velshi soon began cutting McDowell off during the interview with increasing frequency, saying that it was "unfair" that McDowell was citing "legalese" when he wanted to have a speculative conversation about unintended consequences.
"I don't feel we're having a really fair conversation here," Velshi said. "I'm trying to have a conversation on the merits of the principle of unintended consequences of reversing net neutrality, and you're dropping a lot of legalese."
"The legalese are the merits, Ali. That's what's at play here. Maybe you haven't read these laws and you don't understand them," McDowell said.
"I’m very familiar with net neutrality, Robert. I'm really not that familiar with being condescended on about the whole thing," Velshi replied. "I'm trying to say there's a danger of unintended consequences. I'm not saying these companies want to pillage the internet."
"There is a danger whenever you switch things; it doesn't make it right or wrong, of not enabling the same kind of growth that we have all become accustomed to in the last 15 years on the internet," he added.
McDowell, who served as FCC commissioner from 2006 to 2013, pointed out that previous internet regulations enabled growth during the period Velshi mentioned. The Obama administration implemented net neutrality rules in 2015, which classified internet service providers as public utilities, rather than information services, for the first time, giving the government broad power to regulate them and how companies manage traffic over their own networks.
"Before February 2015, there weren't asteroids hitting the internet every day—in fact, quite the opposite: it was blossoming beautifully," McDowell said. "So that was the Clinton-Gore administration policy, that was a bipartisan consensus for 20 years, and that's what gave us all these wonderful internet experience we have today. What confused things was the imposition of Title II in February of 2015, and that is what is being reversed."
Velshi remained flustered at McDowell's legal arguments.
"We're not in a court of law," he said. "There's no judge in front of us."
At the end of the interview, Velshi argued that McDowell was not addressing his deeper concerns about the future of entrepreneurship. McDowell said that the possible scenarios Velshi mentioned would not, in fact, be legally possible because of other regulations.
"What you just said is already illegal, it has been a long time, and will be going forward. So that's good news. Sorry it's good news," McDowell said.
"I'm not sure you and I are interpreting the same information," Velshi replied.
"It's good clickbait to say the internet is being destroyed but it's not," McDowell said.
"I didn't say the internet is being destroyed," Velshi said, arguing it would be better if he and McDowell were "having a conversation."
"We are having a conversation. I'm trying to teach you about the state of the law, which is what's going on," McDowell said.