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REGULATING THE INTERNET, NET NEUTRALITY

Do you want the government to control the Internet? It’s on the verge.

On December 21st, the Federal Communications Commission, by a partisan vote of 3-2 (three Democrats, two Republicans), passed net neutrality to regulate ISP, Internet service providers.

Internet neutrality, a term that would make George Orwell blush, actually is the foundational principle that initiates control of phone and cable companies, enabling the state to block access to websites or interfere with Internet traffic, according to The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund (“The Net Neutrality Coup,” December 22). Amidst government control of health care and financial regulations and other industries, it is yet another example of the abuse of the free market, where decisions are made not by a government agency but by the players who supply it and demand it.

The proponents’ rationale is to maintain transparency of the Internet. It substitutes government for commercial interests as decision-maker on web conflicts. Proponents argue that the big corporations obstruct or will obstruct the free market.

The D.C. Court of Appeals and much of Congress both oppose net neutrality. The court found against the FCC in April, holding that FCC’s ruling against Comcast was illegal, as the FCC does not have congressional legal authority to tell network operators how to manage their networks. With the net neutrality regulation, the FCC may circumvent its failure in the court.

In the Congress, over 300 senators and representatives wrote a letter to Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC, who was a friend of President Obama in law school and has visited with him 11 times in the White House, according to visitor records. President Obama has long been a strong proponent of net neutrality. According to The Wall Street Journal, companies have $2.4 trillion in cash to invest but the FCC has just made telecommunications an unattractive place for investment.

The letter from Congress says, “There is no compelling reason to subject the Internet to more regulation.” “[O]ur foremost communications priority [is] . . . providing the high speed connections needed to realize the promises of telemedicine, distance learning, and other forms of consumer empowerment.”

The letter presses on: “The uncertainty this proposal creates will jeopardize jobs and deter needed investment for years to come. The significant regulatory impact of reclassifying broadband service is not something that should be taken lightly and should not be done without additional direction from Congress. We urge you not to move forward with a proposal that undermines critically important investment in broadband and the jobs that come with it.” The letter was dated May 24, 2010, and Chairman Genachowski had the net-neutrality rules adopted on December 21, 2010.

Net neutrality offers sweeping regulations for non-problems. The President does not have the court and the Congress on his side, but he does have other executive branch agencies like the FCC, whose regulations he may have to substitute for Congress’s laws.

Proponents have taken a poll and learned that the public loves the Internet, so they have a plan: The government—the FCC—should stay out of the picture. On the other hand, because the people love the Internet, the government must maintain control to ensure that the Internet will continue to be free. And the government must indicate that for the Internet to remain free, the government must remain in the picture. Thus stands the FCC, safeguarding the Internet free market for the people.

John Fund traces net neutrality back to Robert McChesney, professor of communications at the University of Illinois in 2002, when he founded the liberal lobby “Free Press.” The short-run purpose of Free Press was “not to completely eliminate” the cable and phone companies. But ultimately, the purpose was “to get rid of the media capitalists” and “divest them from control of phone and cable companies” as “part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist system itself,” as McChesney told SocialistProject in 2009. In an interview with John Fund, McChesney said he was hesitant to say “I am not a Marxist.”

The influence of the proponents has spread. Free Press’s former media relations person is now the secretary to Chairman Genachowski. The FCC’s diversity officer co-authored a Free Press report calling for the end of political talk-radio, recalling to mind the Fairness Doctrine, which the FCC terminated in 1987 because it was “unconstitutional.” FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell, who voted against adopting net neutrality, in 2008 foresaw that the “potential reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine can affect web policy [which it has] resulting in government’s dictating content; and whoever is in charge of government will control content.”

Net neutrality proponents give the impression that their movement has solid popular support, which it does not. But it has the support of foundations formerly supportive of the McCain-Feingold Act. After that bill passed, the foundations turned their attention from campaign reform to media reform. Six among them now support Free Press and net neutrality: George Soros’s Open Society, the Joyce Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, Bill Moyers’s Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, the Ford Foundation, and the Arthur D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Net neutrality would allow the FCC to determine if the decisions of Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and others are “unreasonable” though industrial competition is robust, barriers to entry are low, and there is no market failure.

By Natalie Sirkin
e-mail: sirnat9@gmail.com

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