Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Internet neutrality and the Courts

Marconi was still a young man when the need for government control of communications became all too obvious. Newsmen using the new wireless telegraph began to jam each others' transmissions accidentally and on purpose and battles were fought over frequency allocations. Someone had to step in with some rules to allow the technology to develop, to prevent it being used as a weapon in restraint of free trade and to make sure that those using the public airwaves would use it without disregard for the public interest.

I can almost hear throats clearing at those last two words, almost see lips forming words like collectivism, socialism, Communism, but without it, the guy with the most money has the podium and the guy who owns all the podiums: press, broadcast and now the Internet, might just as well be the government with all that power. The difference between a fair trial and murder; between a Hockey game and a viking raid (if there is a difference) is the rules, so save your breath. I don't want to hear it.

The FCC was formed for these reasons, but during the last administration, it's been almost exclusively concerned with promoting the interests of power companies who want to use the power lines to get into the internet business, and sometimes to the serious harm of other users of the frequency spectrum. Whether or not this has changed under the Communist/Fascist Antichrist from Kenya seems to matter less than the current posture of the courts. The District of Columbia Federal Appeals Court decided yesterday in favor of Comcast and against the authority of the FCC in it's attempt to mandate "net neutrality."

The new administration has been in favor of equal treatment for all internet users; in favor of a policy that would prevent Comcast, for instance from slowing down and restricting the content they don't like and making content they approve of faster and cheaper. Yes, yes, I know all about free market competition, but I'm talking about the real world here and that's a world where corporations collude rather than compete. It's a world where a small group can control information to the point where no one can compete successfully. As I said, the difference between boxing and assault and battery or even murder is the rules.

It's too soon to make scary assertions about how this will work out, but as restrictions on how much of all media outlets can be owned by one person, real or corporate have been loosened along with restrictions on how much information they can restrict in their own interest, it looks to me like we're once again shooting ourselves in the foot, slow motion style. Our obsessive fantasy of a 'no holds barred' marketplace leading to peace and order, prosperity and a well informed electorate is, along with our phobic horror of phrases like "public interest" may be making corporate demagoguery a more valid vision of the future.

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