Cyberspace is about to come under the FCC's thumb
Adam Thierer and Berin Szoka
"Net Neutrality" proponents insist, however, that only regulation can save us from nefarious corporate schemers out to quash our rights and destroy all innovation. Over the last decade, a cabal of activist-minded cyber-law professors have successfully turned the world of Internet policy upside down by persuading an entire generation of law students, policymakers and a number of large Internet companies that "Internet Freedom" means the very opposite of what it used to mean. Borrowing tactics that would have made Orwell proud, they have convinced many in the public and the policymaking community that the old Internet Freedom is slavery, in that we are all just tools of Corporate Big Brother. Thus, they offer us a new Internet Freedom: Neutrality über alles! Their freedom, as in Orwell's Oceania, is not a freedom from the State, but a gleaming utopia that can only be created by the State.
But as the FCC's long history of meddling in media and communications markets makes clear, micro-management of dynamic markets is a recipe for economic stagnation, strangled innovation and speech controls. And the path to regulation does not end with infrastructure providers.
The push for "Wireless Neutrality" is already well under way, and the FCC is currently investigating Apple's rejection of the Google Voice application for the iPhone. Thus, "Net Neutrality" leads to "Device Neutrality" and "Application Neutrality," but the same rationale would apply equally to any circumstance in which access to a communications platform is supposedly limited to a few "gatekeepers." Some academics have already proposed a "Federal Search Commission" to deal with accusations of "search bias." At the end of the day, we'll need a full-blown Federal Information Commission with a Search Bureau, a Cloud Computing Division and several other ministries to micro-manage the many flavors of neutrality regulation.
The path back toward real Internet freedom lies in restoring the presumption of liberty enshrined in the First Amendment, which is not a sword with which the government can ensure fairness, diversity or openness, but a shield against government meddling in media, communications and online markets.