TechMan: Despite ads, government doesn't want to control Net
Share with others:
I'm sure you've seen the TV ad, it was on all the time, especially during the run-up to Tuesday's primary election.
A woman's voice with a tinge of the ominous warns that the government is trying to "take over" the Internet and must be stopped. It urges you to write to U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa.
The first time I saw it, I thought, "The government is trying to take over the Internet? How did I miss that?"
As with many TV political ads, and this is a political ad, there is a healthy serving of exaggeration and hardly a teaspoon of truth.
The ad is paid for by Americans for Prosperity. (Notice how these groups all have such positive names. You never see a political ad sponsored by Citizens for Joblessness.)
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is involved with the Tax Day Tea Party protests. It also opposed the health care reform bill.
In 2008, AFP ran a campaign with the slogan, "Global Warming Alarmism: Lost Jobs, Higher Taxes, Less Freedom." According the campaign website, "Climate alarmists have bombarded citizens with apocalyptic scenarios and pressured them into environmental political correctness."
Speaking of apocalyptic scenarios, let's get back to the Internet takeover ads.
As usual with this type of appeal, there is a germ of fact. Several months ago, a federal court ruled in a lawsuit brought by Comcast against the FCC that the FCC did not have the right to regulate Internet service providers. These are the companies that provide your Internet connection, such as Comcast or Verizon.
The FCC had told Comcast to stop interfering with the connections of people who were using a large amount of bandwidth, mostly to download video.
Comcast claimed the FCC was overstepping its authority, and the court sided with Comcast. In short, the court ruled that the FCC had no authority over ISPs because they were in the information business, not in the telecommunications business, a distinction made in the law.
So the FCC responded: OK, we'll put ISPs in the same class as telecommunications outfits, then we have the right to regulate them.
But at the same time, the FCC said it was doing this only to assure net neutrality -- that all customers would be treated the same -- and to encourage the ISPs to help extend broadband coverage to areas of the country that don't have it. (About 65 percent of Americans have it.) The FCC specifically said it had no desire to regulate the content of the Internet or the details of the businesses of the ISPs. Some want Congress to get involved, thus the appeal to Sen. Casey.
Now here comes the great leap taken by Americans for Prosperity. In fact it's more than a leap, it's an Evel Knievel-like jump from fact to conspiracy theory.
Phil Kerpen, vice president for policy of Americans for Prosperity, posting on FoxForum on Foxnews.com, wrote, "It is easy to envision a scenario in which the Internet, transformed into a piece of public utility infrastructure, tightly regulated, and subsidized with billions of taxpayer dollars, would be subject to content restrictions." In other words, the government wants to regulate Internet content.
Stop your knee from jerking long enough to think.
At one time, the government did control the Internet. The Internet began as a military-sponsored network called ARPAnet. So when the military wholly owned it, what did it do with it? They gave it to the public.
Think about what controlling the content of the Internet means. Increasingly most of what is on the Web is not created in this country nor does it reside on computers in this country.
Even controlling content within a country is almost impossible. China is trying and so far has managed to drive Google out and garner international condemnation. In fact, I'd be willing to say that the Internet is now so fecund with content and so sprawling geographically that it is beyond control, even by governments.
So the next time you see that ad (if it is still on after the election), know what it really is about. It really is about whether the companies that sell you the Internet should be unregulated. Or whether the government should assure that all users are treated equally by those ISPs and that they cooperate in making high-speed Internet service available to everyone in the country.
What it's not about is government control of the Internet. That's total paranoid nonsense.
First Published May 23, 2010 12:00 am