The Federal Communications Commission’s decision to start regulating the Internet is the culmination of a plan that has followed a classic leftist pattern: create a “problem,” declare that only big government can solve it, possibly solve it, and then use that power to further your agenda. FCC Commissioners voted three to two – strictly along party lines – to make the power grab. Regulation of the Internet is necessary, proponents of so-called “net neutrality” argue, in order to prevent big Internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast from restricting or inhibiting access to parts of the World Wide Web. Net neutrality is thus a classic example of a solution in desperate need of a problem, for you have to search far and wide to find someone in America who hasn’t been able to go where he or she wanted to go on the Internet, and – assuming they paid for the bandwidth – at lightning speed.
You don’t have to know much more about net neutrality to deduce that it’s a bad idea than to consider the people and organizations that have been pushing the concept. MoveOn.org, George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the Pew Charitable Trust are among the leftist powerhouses that have provided the money necessary to move Internet regulation forward. The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund reports that the idea was originally proposed by Robert McChesney, a University of Illinois communications professor and an admitted socialist. “At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies,” McChesney told the website SocialistProject in 2009. “But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”
And so we’re left to consider once again the great question of the age: is big government the answer to every problem, whether real or perceived? Every time something goes wrong, or any time someone identifies a potential risk, the default leftist response is more government, more regulations and more bureaucrats. But, we all pay a price for such expansion of the nanny state. Any segment of the economy that struggles under the thumb of an intransigent, unimaginative and all-powerful regulatory agency inevitably suffers. We thus trade the potential of free-market prosperity for the certainty of bureaucratic intolerance. Distilled down to its essentials, the leftist argument ultimately concludes that the positives of government mandated equality outweigh whatever risks of the free market we might have to deal with, because the leftist utopian equality imposed by the state is an equality of mediocrity.
The stated goal of net neutrality sounds so very wonderful: to ensure that each and every American has equal access to the Internet and to ensure that ISPs cannot arbitrarily limit that access. The Internet is a public resource, the argument continues, and should be regulated like any other public communications resource, such as the television and radio stations. If the consequences of the FCC’s power grab were truly benign, few people would care. But, the fact is that we know from bitter experience that once a regulatory agency decides to sink its claws into a particular sector of the economy, it will dig deeper and deeper until it exerts what amounts to a death grip.
The Internet is the modern day equivalent of the Wild West: free-wheeling, raucous and full of opportunity. Trillions of dollars now flow along the information superhighway and an enterprising entrepreneur can cash in with little more than a good idea and the few bucks necessary to secure a domain. FCC bureaucrats will inevitably change all that. Government regulation always involves the three innovation killing concepts of licensing, standards and rules. Regulators are only capable of looking backwards, in order to design a system capable of managing the world they understand, rather than helping to explore the frontiers of new worlds that few could imagine. When and if the FCC grabs hold of the Internet in the United States, their grasp will inevitably tighten – slowly but surely – and squeeze untold billions of dollars of growth out of the economy, simply because regulation is the sworn enemy of innovation.
Yet, that might not be the worst of it. The organizations that have championed “net neutrality” are the same groups that long for the return of the “fairness doctrine,” the arcane FCC policy that effectively stifled free speech and shut down the marketplace of ideas. Is there any doubt that organizations like MoveOn.org and the Open Society Institute would love to see the FCC use its licensing power to reduce the influence of conservative outlets on the web? Not that prominent leftists would encourage the FCC to do so, at least not at the beginning. The trick to using bureaucracy to further one’s agenda is understanding that regulatory agencies are like glaciers; they move slowly, but there’s no stopping them once inertia and gravity kicks in. Establishing the “right” of the FCC to regulate the Internet is the key. Once that happens, the unstoppable progress of the regulatory behemoth is inevitable. In leftist dreams, the FCC will start by regulating access to the Internet, move on to defining how that access is provided and, at some point in the not so distant future, publish rules that limit access to only those sites that have been government approved.
Republicans have vowed to fight the FCC’s ruling, but they probably don’t have the votes to overturn the decision. The GOP may entice enough Democrats to pass a bill negating net neutrality in 2011, but they don’t appear to have enough votes to overcome an expected veto by Barack Obama. The courts may offer a better and lasting solution. Lawsuits are already in progress, asking the judiciary to decide whether access to the Internet is a right protected by the First Amendment or a privilege subject to government control. It is on this battleground that the doctrine of net neutrality will ultimately rise or fall. The free exchange of ideas that the Internet represents is a most dangerous enemy to the left and they will stop at nothing to grab control of this powerful forum. Their success or failure, it would seem, will hinge upon the judgments of a few jurists dressed in black robes and how they interpret our Constitutional guarantees to exchange ideas and information.