Net neutrality is not Obamacare for the Internet (column)
Comcast did not invent the Internet. Neither did AT&T. They just hitched rides on it.
All to the betterment of mankind, I might add — unless mankind is crossing an intersection and an oncoming, texting 19-year-old driver is oblivious to the color red.
Therefore, consider this commentary not a slam on big telecom companies. It’s a plug for all who use the Internet.
The announced support for “net neutrality” by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is being hailed by supporters of an open Internet as one of the biggest developments since hypertext.
And speaking of things hyper: um, Sen. Ted Cruz.
As a devoted water carrier for just about anything big, except the government variety, the Texas senator has joined Big Telecom as denouncing Wheeler’s decision as oppression most foul. Cruz, indeed, has called the notion of net neutrality “Obamacare on the Internet.”
What, Senator? Not, “This is ISIS out to behead all ISPs”? Come on, Senator. You can make this modest proposal even more horrifying, can’t you?
So, what is net neutrality, a concept embraced by President Obama? Fundamentally, it’s about treating the Internet as a utility that treats all equally. It’s not to be a plaything of the powerful and better-connected (you know, a plaything like Congress).
At stake is whether Internet service providers can put a premium on speed of data delivery that only a few customers can afford — a “fast lane” to be constructed for megaplayers who can pay a premium.
Much of what’s at stake is speculative – particularly Cruz’s hyperbole. Opponents of net neutrality call it rank government interference that could stifle innovation. Other opponents say that it could result in tariffs and taxes on online activity. Wheeler’s statement — in advance of a commission vote where his position likely will prove decisive — made it clear that the government’s role as he would enforce it doesn’t involve taxes or tariffs.
On that note, let’s understand who created the Internet. We did. We the people funded and authorized the Pentagon experts who devised it to facilitate unfettered and decentralized communication in times of military crisis.
They devised it, then set it free for the use of everyone with the means of accessing it. Increasingly, that literally means everyone.
Like television, like radio, like cable, like anything that relies on phone lines, frequencies, power lines, coaxial, fiber optics or broadband in backyards, a government role is inherent and necessary.
By and large, government’s instincts have been excellent in regulating all of the above. But we’ve seen when free-marketeers can mess things up. Such was the case with deregulation under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It removed restrictions against monopolies that basically resulted in clear-cutting of independent radio stations by megacorporations — a debilitating wave of homogenizing and downsizing.
Without question, it was the worst thing ever to happen to radio.
Would net neutrality result in a neutered telecom industry? Only in the scare tactics of those who wish government to just not govern.
Comcast and AT&T may be big, but their interests do not supersede that of the general public when it comes to a free and lightly regulated Internet.
Listen to the argument against net neutrality and hear echoes of the argument against campaign finance laws. We are told that campaign cash is an expression of free speech, and that big donors are entitled to their clout. But as with the Internet, elections are a government-spawned enterprise, and it is not at all unreasonable for government to set limits on what it authorizes in the interest of self-government.
Corporations are people? No, and the Internet isn’t proprietary, either.
The Internet is ours, just as elections are ours, unless laws about either are written by and for the highest bidder.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: email@example.com.
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