By Tom Balek | Watchdog Arena
This week the Federal Communications Commission will vote on new net neutrality regulations that will turn significant control of the internet over to the federal government by regulating Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as public utilities.
Net neutrality is promoted using the same “class envy” technique that has been so politically successful over the years: “Just let us handle everything, and we will make sure internet access is ‘fair’.” The legislation would, for example, prevent ISPs from charging some customers more than others for higher speed services, and from controlling access to certain internet content. Sounds altruistic, doesn’t it?
History has proven that every time government takes a market segment away from the public, the product ultimately costs more, performs worse, is harder to get, and ends up profiting a select few well-connected cronies at taxpayer expense.
If the FCC takes control of our internet service, there is risk–perhaps likelihood–that competing ISPs will be pared down to a select few “winning” vendors. Is it any wonder that Comcast, owner of the blatantly pro-big government news channel MSNBC, and one of the largest contributors to the Obama campaign, is a full-throated supporter of the net neutrality bill?
In these kinds of quid pro quo arrangements, make no mistake: the deep-pockets federal government trades cash for control. And the cash is non-partisan. There’s a net neutrality bill floating around Congress, and sponsors Fred Upton (R-MI) and Greg Walden (R-OR) received hefty contributions from telecom companies.
For a sneak preview of net neutrality, let’s take a look at internet life in the People’s Republic of China.
Regional ISPs in China are owned and operated by the government, which rigidly controls content as well as access to the internet. The Communist party thwarted early attempts by its rival China Democracy Party to establish unrestricted internet access, enforced by arrests and imprisonment.
The Chinese government’s internet authority is documented in their “Computer Information Network and Internet Security, Protection, and Management Regulations,” approved by the State Council in 1997:
No unit or individual may use the Internet to create, replicate, retrieve, or transmit the following kinds of information:
- Inciting to resist or breaking the [Communist Chinese] Constitution or laws or the implementation of administrative regulations;
- Inciting to overthrow the government or the socialist system;
- Inciting division of the country, harming national unification;
- Inciting hatred or discrimination among nationalities or harming the unity of the nationalities;
- Making falsehoods or distorting the truth, spreading rumors, destroying the order of society;
- Promoting feudal superstitions, sexually suggestive material, gambling, violence, murder;
- Terrorism or inciting others to criminal activity; openly insulting other people or distorting the truth to slander people;
- Injuring the reputation of state organizations;
- Other activities against the [Communist Chinese] Constitution, laws or administrative regulations.Taken from The Political Economy of the Internet in Asia and the Pacific Digital Divides, Economic Competitiveness, and Security Challenges.
Chinese internet users know that their every keystroke is monitored by the government. They live behind a digital “Iron Curtain,” justified by the need for a “healthy internet.” According to Reporters Without Borders, web users and bloggers who stray from the party line are routinely arrested and imprisoned.
There is a price to pay for government-enforced fairness and safety. And there is no proposed government improvement to internet service that would not be accomplished faster and better by competition in the free market.
The internet may seem to be a ubiquitous benefit to us all, just there for the taking. Actually, each component of the internet originated and continues to operate in the free market as a competitive for-profit business opportunity.
Free market versus government bureaucracy and control? If we want the best internet service and access for all of us in the People’s Republic of America, this is not even a fair fight.
This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.