The Internet is the modern day equivalent of the Wild West: free-wheeling, raucous and full of opportunity. Trillions of dollars now flow along the information superhighway and an enterprising entrepreneur can cash in with little more than a good idea and the few bucks necessary to secure a domain. FCC bureaucrats will inevitably change all that. Government regulation always involves the three innovation killing concepts of licensing, standards and rules. Regulators are only capable of looking backwards, in order to design a system capable of managing the world they understand, rather than helping to explore the frontiers of new worlds that few could imagine. When and if the FCC grabs hold of the Internet in the United States, their grasp will inevitably tighten – slowly but surely – and squeeze untold billions of dollars of growth out of the economy, simply because regulation is the sworn enemy of innovation.
Yet, that might not be the worst of it. The organizations that have championed “net neutrality” are the same groups that long for the return of the “fairness doctrine,” the arcane FCC policy that effectively stifled free speech and shut down the marketplace of ideas. Is there any doubt that organizations like MoveOn.org and the Open Society Institute would love to see the FCC use its licensing power to reduce the influence of conservative outlets on the web? Not that prominent leftists would encourage the FCC to do so, at least not at the beginning. The trick to using bureaucracy to further one’s agenda is understanding that regulatory agencies are like glaciers; they move slowly, but there’s no stopping them once inertia and gravity kicks in. Establishing the “right” of the FCC to regulate the Internet is the key. Once that happens, the unstoppable progress of the regulatory behemoth is inevitable. In leftist dreams, the FCC will start by regulating access to the Internet, move on to defining how that access is provided and, at some point in the not so distant future, publish rules that limit access to only those sites that have been government approved.
Republicans have vowed to fight the FCC’s ruling, but they probably don’t have the votes to overturn the decision. The GOP may entice enough Democrats to pass a bill negating net neutrality in 2011, but they don’t appear to have enough votes to overcome an expected veto by Barack Obama. The courts may offer a better and lasting solution. Lawsuits are already in progress, asking the judiciary to decide whether access to the Internet is a right protected by the First Amendment or a privilege subject to government control. It is on this battleground that the doctrine of net neutrality will ultimately rise or fall. The free exchange of ideas that the Internet represents is a most dangerous enemy to the left and they will stop at nothing to grab control of this powerful forum. Their success or failure, it would seem, will hinge upon the judgments of a few jurists dressed in black robes and how they interpret our Constitutional guarantees to exchange ideas and information.
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