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A Neutral Net, or Prior Restraint?

By Isaac MacMillen

Julius Genachowski, nominee for the all-important position of Federal Communications Commission chief, has a disturbing history when it comes to freedom of expression. As head of the FCC, he will oversee the nation's communications industries—hardly a job to be entrusted to one with a penchant for stifling regulation and rampant censorship.

Yet “Baron” Genachowski is no friend to the free flow of ideas, or the marketplace of public discourse.

A proponent of “Net Neutrality,” Mr. Genachowski supports the idea that government should regulate the Internet—ostensibly to prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from “discriminating” against content or hardware. But in reality, it serves as a method for the government to “orchestrate” the Internet, denying ISPs the right to innovate as the Internet is developed further.

“Net Neutrality,” while it sounds good in name, is essentially the “fairness doctrine” of data: Under Mr. Genochowski's heavy hand, all data would be forced to flow at the same speed for the same price. If it were codified, the government regulators who claim they are preserving the Internet will have certainly done just that—in a moribund state—and at the cost of future innovations and improvements.

Ultimately, in such a scenario, the government would be dictating what private websites can post, which flies in the face of all the web is, and was intended to be. In its current incarnation, if a website wishes to allow paid advertisement, then so be it. If consumers deem its service too poor—or too biased—to meet their needs, another will be created.

Software is the perfect example: Users who didn't care for leading brands Microsoft or Apple developed an open source platform, Linux. Versions of the user-developed software are now in use by clients ranging from the U.S. Department of Defense to Pixar. Even Dell is offering consumer-grade computers equipped with Linux. And all this by private citizens, without government intervention.

Clearly, those who push for government intervention have a surprisingly low view of individual entrepreneurship—or of web users' ability to interact and self-police. Certainly, the Internet has enough forms of instant communication (email, social networking, blogs, forums) that it would be impossible for a corporation to discriminate unfairly without notice by its many eagle-eyed users. All of which has worked impeccably to date.

Yet now comes Baron Genachowski. Mr. Genachowski's “Net Neutrality” ideas would not, as he would like to claim, “neutralize” the Internet; rather, they would decrease innovation, stifle competition, and ultimately set the stage for increased government involvement and regulation. That, of an industry many in government do not understand. And then there is the speed of the Internet's development—it advances far too quickly for any government regulation to keep up with it. Any attempt would doubtlessly end in disaster—except, of course, for those who consider the U.S. Postal Service the very embodiment of innovation.

Making matters worse, if government can force ISPs to broadcast particular types of information, there's no limit to what they can do to force them to broadcast content. Most agree that it is unconstitutional—prior restraint on free speech. Even so, the nation may be headed there.

On another front where Genachowski's heavy hand could spell censorship, top Obama advisor David Axelrod refused to comment on the “fairness doctrine” back in February, stating that it would be up to the President and Mr. Genachowski as to whether or not it is reintroduced. And on that issue, Baron Genachowski has been chillingly silent—though his influence in authoring the President's technology agenda, including its focus on “diversity” (read: "liberalism") in media ownership and viewpoints, is alarming, to say the least.

With ideas such as these, Baron Genachowski clearly does not belong in the role of the nation's primary communications regulator. American's don't care to see Internet freedom fall to the heavy hand of federal hegemony. Nor do they wish to see broadcast fairness fall to the dictates of liberal duplicity.

Isaac MacMillen is a Contributing Editor to ALG News Bureau.


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