Net-Neutrality = Press Freedom

Net-Neutrality is the principle that data packets on the Internet should be moved impartially, without regard to content, destination or source.

Throughout the history of the United States “Freedom of the Press” has been touted as a fundamental right when, in fact, such freedom has truly existed only for the one who owns the press. Anyone who’s watched the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington will clearly understand the democracy implications of a dollar skewed Internet.

In light of certain events of the last decade, it is clear that the Internet changed the dynamic and made the First Amendment guarantee real for the first time in U.S. history.

In January, three federal judges, in Verizon versus FCC, struck down the net-neutrality rules put in place by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) in 2010. The rules had been designed to prevent the nation’s largest broadband service providers from charging content companies for access to Internet “fast lanes”. The ruling allows Internet service providers (ISPs) to sell faster download speeds to the highest bidder — even if access to other websites slows to a crawl.

Web activists around the world assert that access to the Internet is now a fundamental human right. Thus it is important to ensure that the Internet remains a free and open platform that promotes innovation, competition and consumer interests.

It is clear from the opinion written by Judge David Tatel, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, that some consideration was given to the issue of consumer choice. But the analysis is, for the most part, focused on average connection speeds and not content.

The nightmare scenario occurs when the corporatocracy, accountable only to its investors, is itself vested with the power to act as the “gatekeeper,” when it becomes the arbiter of culture and speech.

Judge Tatel clearly placed the notion of “consumer choice” on a plane of unreality, for unless the consumer is informed, there is no meaningful exercise of choice. For example, the consumer of national news would have no way of knowing if Verizon was giving the Fox News website a faster pop because its front page featured an article favorable to Verizon on the issue of Net-Neutrality.

We have all witnessed the effects of integrity challenged journalism. We have regularly consumed a “journalistic” product that contains a highly selective filtration, amplification, and contextualization of the facts. It is already next to impossible to locate an honest broker of information. This is the proximate cause for the integrity deficit in government. If you were to place the average elected “representative” on the stage of the Scanning Transmission Electron Holography Microscope, you would be unable to detect any form of statesmanship.

I am sure that, in the wake of this latest attack on the First Amendment, there will be abundant posturing on Capitol Hill. But, it is important to develop a high contrast image in this particular case. There are friends of the First Amendment, and it has its enemies. The FCC should have classified the common carriers of Internet traffic as Common Carriers. And, it is widely suspected that any effort towards re-classification will face insurmountable roadblocks.

The electorate can simply acquiesce, as it has done so many times in the past, or it can exercise its considerable powers of Consumer Sovereignty. It needs to make the determination that this is the First Amendment issue of our time, and that any politicians blocking the re-classification effort should be pried from their form fitting seats for cause. That cause would be a fundamental betrayal of The Constitution they swore an oath to uphold.

© Robert H. Kalk

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