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Page 1

"Net Neutrality": Freedom Cannot Be Forced

by Jason Roth

Comments on S. 2917: the Internet Freedom Preservation Act. Legislation submitted by:

Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME)
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND)
Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)
Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY)


When a politician tells you he needs to "do something" in order to preserve your freedom, it's time to start worrying. Government preserves your freedom by doing less, not more. Or, to be more precise, by staying the fuck out of your way. When the politicians say individuals or companies have a "duty" apart from adhering to voluntary contracts they've made with others, it's time to start shaking. And when they say the FCC should be involved, it's time to take the proverbial shit in your pants.

Here is the first and primary goal of the unsurprisingly Orwellian named "Internet Freedom Preservation Act":

"With respect to any broadband service offered to the public, each broadband service provider shall--

(1) not block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair, or degrade the ability of any person to use a broadband service to access, use, send, post, receive, or offer any lawful content, application, or service made available via the Internet"

What does an Internet service provider do again? They take the money you give them in exchange for letting you use their network as a gateway to the Internet. You are free to purchase this service from them or not. The idea that an ISP can "interfere" with your use of their network is like saying a newspaper company interferes with your freedom of speech when it refuses to print your letter to the editor. It's the ISP's network, and the newspaper's letters-to-the-editor page. If you don't like the content they allow you to transmit via their communications media, you are free to do business with another ISP or newspaper. Alternately, you can sit in your room and write a blog to your own fucking self.

You would think something as seemingly simple as "free speech" could not be corrupted by its self-proclaimed defenders. You would be wrong. There is free speech, and then there is the medium of communication. You own your speech, not the devices of transmitting speech which are owned by others. You have no right to another's property, no matter how great your desire for that property or how much it would benefit your life. Whether it be communications media, cancer medication, or a loaf of bread, your property is yours, and your neighbor's property is his.

The owner of a computer network has the right to choose to make any particular contract with its customers as to the allowable use of that network. If government can mandate the "openness" of content transferred via private internet service providers, then individual freedom is not the principle motivator but rather coercion and rule of the majority. If the whim of the masses, as determined in this case by a Republican and seven Democrats, is that an Internet service provider must allow its users to communicate content that it finds objectionable, then government is willing to violate the property rights of the ISP for the purported benefit of the masses.

But the issue isn't just about the property rights of the Internet service providers. Government forcing traditional media or Internet service companies to allow certain types of speech is the other side of the censorship coin. Mandating that an intermediary allow the transfer of "lawful" content for the good of the masses presumes a right to regulate content. And, of course, the sponsors of the "Internet Freedom Preservation Act" have done more than plant the seed of censorship. They've watered it and sprinkled on the manure.

Pseudo freedom advocates would like to pretend that "lawful content" means everything except jpegs of men raping children. But the "Net Neutrality" bill seeks to amend the Communications Act of 1934 (PDF), the law that blessed us with the FCC and powers such as the following:

"...the Commission from time to time, as public convenience, interest, or necessity requires shall...

...Have authority to suspend the license of any operator upon proof sufficient to satisfy the Commission that the licensee-...

...Has transmitted superfluous radio communications or signals or communications containing profane or obscene words, language, or meaning..."

Like the original text of the Communications Act of 1934, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act purports to allow regulation for the good of "the public". ("The public", conveniently enough, excludes members of the public who work for radio stations or Internet service providers.) But once we accept the premise that government, not private individuals, has the right to regulate the content transmitted by radio stations, cable companies, and ISPs for the good of "the public", then we recognize government's right to determine what content is "good" for the public and what content is "bad". I.e., what constitutes "lawful content".

Enacting the "Net Neutrality" Bill will increase regulation of business, further erode property rights, and further enhance government's ability to regulate speech. It will do it in the name of "freedom". And the clueless peons with their fear of control by corporations will happily submit to control by government. Just politics as usual in the twenty-first century.

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