Net Neutrality: A Path to Censorship

Chris Slavens
By Chris Slavens: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So goes the old saying; its originator, Bert Lance, is perhaps best known for his involvement in the BCCI scandal of the 1980s, but the phrase became a modern proverb. It warns folks not to attempt to repair or alter something that is running smoothly; today, its wisdom should be applied to the Internet.

A recent Hart Research Associates poll found that 75% of Americans think the Internet is “working well,” and 55% believe the government should not regulate it. Yet proponents of Net Neutrality, most of whom hail from the political left, disagree.

Net Neutrality is the principle that all websites should be accessible with equal speed, and that the federal government (specifically, the Federal Communications Commission) should see to it that they are, or else. No longer would access be a private matter between buyer and seller. If implemented, the FCC would be granted regulatory powers over much of the Internet, a prospect that should terrify anyone who favors free, uncensored speech.

When asked why Net Neutrality is necessary, its proponents usually spout outlandish conspiracy theories, the most popular of which involves a sinister plot by evil telecom companies to discriminate against certain groups of users, block access to select websites, and stifle free speech. Of course, this is not happening, and there is no logical reason to assume that it ever will. Even if such a scenario did occur, the free market would provide solutions; competition, not regulation, is the best way to ensure that the Internet remains open and free.

Admittedly, most proponents of Net Neutrality probably believe they are fighting for a noble cause. “Save the Internet!” they cry. “Keep the Web free!” Yet they fail to realize, or else ignore, the fact that government regulation of the Internet would inevitably lead to the very loss of online liberty that they argue could occur in the absence of a broadband regulatory authority.

But behind these well-meaning -- if misguided – activists, there are authoritarians who are stirring the pot, repeating the “save the Internet” rhetoric out of political necessity, while privately viewing Net Neutrality as the first step towards establishing government censorship of ideas they believe to be outdated, undesirable, or dangerous. The Internet makes it easier than ever before for Americans of all races, religions, and income levels to exercise their First Amendment rights, which poses a serious threat to those grappling for long-term power; they are desperately searching for a way to stifle dissent and control the flow of information.

A Republican takeover of the House, which seems increasingly likely as the midterm elections approach, would certainly delay the implementation of Net Neutrality, but that will not be enough. Americans must draw a line in the sand, and firmly instruct the federal government to keep its hands off the Internet. It is not the role of the FCC (if indeed it has a legitimate, constitutional role, a point which is open for debate) to tell Internet access providers how to operate their businesses; this duty falls on consumers, who will surely take their business elsewhere if they do not receive satisfactory service. Short of a future monopoly on Internet access, there is simply no reason for a government agency to involve itself in this process.

At the very least, the FCC should wait for a problem to occur before proposing a solution – otherwise, it is only trying to fix something that, most Americans agree, “ain’t broke.”

Chris Slavens is a libertarian columnist. He lives in Sussex County, Delaware. He contributes to numerous conservative sites including NetRight Daily, ARRA News Service, Conservative Voices, and his own blog, Slavens Says.

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