Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Illogical Defense of Net Neutrality

Just to be clear:  I'm in favor of net neutrality.  I want everything to be easily available on the Web.  I don't want to pay "tolls" for access to anything.  I don't know who, other than a short-sighted greedy business person, who would want otherwise.

But I've just seen two illogical defenses of net neutrality on Keith Olbermann's Countdown.   First, Josh Silver of the Free Press told Olbermann that net neutrality is crucial because, otherwise, the Internet will come under the control of big corporations, and look what big corporations did to banking, and oil (BP oil spill) in America.

Wrong on both counts.   Information is not the same as money (banking).  As every Intro to Comm and Media Studies student should know (mine do, because I teach this), there's a world of difference between between money and information.  If you take my money, I have less money.  If you take my information, I at very least still have that information, and may indeed end up with more information, as I get feedback from your use of my information.   The equation of oil and information is even more absurd.   Although leaks of information can cause damage, just as often they can be valuable in a democracy, as in the case of the Pentagon papers (and draw your own conclusions about the Wiki-leaks).   In contrasts, oil leaks only do damage.

Next, Senator Al Franken opined that, although the First Amendment has thus far attempted to protect us from government control of information, the issue of net neutrality will test the First Amendment on how well it can protect us from corporate control of information.

Really?   The history of the world is filled with tragic examples of what happens when government controls information.   Nazi Germany and The Soviet Union are the big examples in the 20th century.  Thomas Jefferson and James Madison correctly saw that government control of information is antithetical to democracy.   Ability to know about the government was precisely what the First Amendment was designed to protect, or prevent the goverment from blocking.

Appropriately, there is nothing in the First Amendment about corporations - Congress is the entity restricted from abridging freedoms of speech and press.   And that makes sense, given that corporate control of information and news has never led to totalitarian societies, as government control did in Nazi Germany and The Soviet Union.

A little logic, and some knowledge of history, would be helpful when considering these issues.  Empowering the FCC to exercise government control over the Internet is precisely the way we do not want to go in our democracy.   Thus far in the world, freedom of information and therefore freedom itself has been given a lot more to fear from governments than corporations.
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