I took the following paragraph from the Media Access Project’s (MAP) webpage today. Among other things, it quickly illustrates the battle going on around Net Neutrality. Quite simply, it’s about control: MAP wants regulators to “own” the networks; the network providers want their private property rights to be honored.
The Internet has emerged as a critical new avenue of free expression — truly becoming an uninhibited marketplace of ideas. Network neutrality protections would ensure that the Internet remains a platform that supports the public’s First Amendment right to receive, access, and create news and information from a diversity of sources and viewpoints, without discrimination from ISPs.
What MAP really means is this: Network providers – because they provide Internet services – have no rights to control what gets expressed over their networks. 0. It’s just too important to society.
MAP has little faith in the free market to promote free expression (even in light of the fact that the “Internet has emerged as a critical new avenue of free expression” primarily through commercial activity of private actors). They want regulators / government to take action. Sadly, the main way that Government can do this is by taking away some of the network provider’s private property rights. It must in essence make the network public property, which is what the FCC seeks to accomplish in its pending Net Neutrality proceeding.
Government cannot, via the First Amendment, order speech to flow freely over privately built networks. Why? While First Amendment values are indeed key to our self-governance, that right is not one the government can wield for itself. To the contrary, it is a right for the people against the government so that it does not impinge on our speech activities. Though MAP and others on the radical, anti-private property fringe would have one believe otherwise, it matters little if a corporation (in this case, network providers) is involved. They have First Amendment rights, too.
I get the fact that network providers make their money by providing important services to society. But, they’re doing it with their own private property. As it applies to the Internet, Congress has sanctioned this. If government wanted to build the networks themselves, that’s a whole ‘nuther story. But, they haven’t.
If we were to follow MAP’s pessimistic view of the world, government could control just about anything that private parties do which is “important to society.” The list could be endless.
Don’t we have something to protect against such coercion? Hmmm…let me think about that.