Right-wing delusion: Net neutrality is government plot to control Internet content

››› ››› ERIC SCHROECK

Right-wing media have falsely claimed that the net neutrality principle supported by the Obama administration is an attempt by the government to control Internet content. In fact, net neutrality does not mean government control of content on the Internet; rather, net neutrality ensures equal and open access for consumers and producers of content and applications, and is supported by a wide array of groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Christian Coalition of America.

Right-wing media push baseless claim that net neutrality would allow government to censor content, squash dissent

Beck claimed net neutrality is "a way to control voices." On the January 19 edition of his Fox News show [accessed via Nexis], Glenn Beck claimed, "FCC, they want net neutrality with Obama. That's the big push. Net neutrality, it's a way to control voices." Beck previously claimed on the October 20, 2009, edition of his show that "we have Marxists that are designing and working on net neutrality -- are big believers in net neutrality, right? Gosh, it does seem that these would be the wrong people to help, you know, innovate business for it. And so what they want to do is, if I can do the third one, control content."

Limbaugh: "[N]et neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine of the Internet." On the March 16 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh claimed that "net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine of the Internet." He added: "In the era of net neutrality ... the results of any search -- let's say you want to search abortion, or you want to search the health care bill -- they want to control what you see. They want to control what your options are. They can't really control the content; it's too massive and it's too big. What they want to try to do is limit your access to it, and have that access flavored toward whatever particular point of view the administration wants supported."

Newsmax promotes Institute for Liberty's claim that net neutrality "is a foray into content regulation which could effectively squash dissenting viewpoints." In an April 4 Newsmax email, the Institute for Liberty's Andrew Langer claimed that " 'Network Neutrality' is a code word that means something far more sinister -- 'Government Control.' " He later stated, "The irony, of course, is that their proposal wouldn't make the internet more 'neutral' " and that "[p]art and parcel of their proposal is a foray into content regulation which could effectively squash dissenting viewpoints."

Wash. Times op-ed: It's "worrisome" that FCC "seeks to regulate the flow of Internet content" through net neutrality. In a March 31 op-ed, Andrew Moylan of the National Taxpayers Union wrote: "Mr. Obama's appointees to this [Federal Communications Commission] have made no secret of their desire to exercise more control over the whole landscape of video, telephone and wireless services. One of the most worrisome elements of their agenda is their current rule-making process, better known as 'Net neutrality,' which seeks to regulate the flow of Internet content for the first time ever."

RedState: Net neutrality means "the censors of the left will even have the power to control the Internet." In a March 27 RedState post, Neil Stevens wrote, "But just as the FCC regulates content on television and radio ... so too will it be able to regulate content on the Internet should Net Neutrality be the law of the land" [emphasis in original]. From Stevens' post:

Save the Internet is innocuous looking at first. They take full advantage both major deceptions of the Net Neutrality movement. First, they make you think this is all a harmless little bit of technocracy, and not a power grab. In fact they've used that to trick some rightys into thinking that without Net Neutrality, ISPs might censor content. In fact it's just the opposite: It's only if Net Neutrality comes into effect that the censors of the left will even have the power to control the Internet.

Phase one, Net Neutrality, includes no plans to regulate content, just routing. But just as the FCC regulates content on television and radio, most famously in the case of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl show, so too will it be able to regulate content on the Internet should Net Neutrality be the law of the land.

SayAnything: Net neutrality "is really a stalking horse for those who want government control over internet content." A February 22 post on SayAnythingBlog claimed, "Net neutrality, while it sounds well and good on paper, is really a stalking horse for those who want government control over internet content."

Net neutrality prohibits Internet Service Providers from controlling access to Internet content

Contrary to claims that net neutrality allows the government to control content on the Internet, the Congressional Research Service states that net neutrality is the principle that "owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that network; and should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that network."

Net neutrality protects consumer freedom and was "the law of the land until 2005"

Open Internet Coalition: "Net neutrality was a founding principle of the Internet, and was the law of the land until 2005." The Open Internet Coalition -- a group that includes Amazon, eBay, Google, Sony, and YouTube -- explains of net neutrality:

The principle of net neutrality is about keeping the hands of several powerful network operators -- AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast -- off the Internet, preventing them from taking steps to change the basic open nature of the Net that has led to its success. Net neutrality keeps the Internet as a free and open marketplace, so that a small number of telephone and cable monopolies can't choke off competition and innovation.

Net neutrality was a founding principle of the Internet, and was the law of the land until 2005. The courts and the regulators changed the rules in 2005 when they eliminated the nondiscrimination requirements that had applied for decades to phone service and, up to that point, to most residential Internet access. Implementing net neutrality is a return to the basic principles that make the Internet work for consumers and innovators.

Wash. Post: FCC to consider "new rules to prevent Internet providers from favoring one application over another." An October 20, 2009, Washington Post article reported: "A number of Silicon Valley titans and early technologists of the Web on Monday urged the Federal Communications Commission to move forward with new rules to prevent Internet providers from favoring one application over another. The support came as debate over the rules reached a fevered pitch, just days before the FCC is scheduled to vote on whether to begin the rule-making process." In a September 21, 2009, speech at the Brookings Institution, FCC chairman Julius "Genachowski proposed the addition of two new principles. The first would prevent Internet access providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, while allowing for reasonable network management. The second principle would ensure that Internet access providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement." Genachowski stated that the FCC would "kick-off the rulemaking process next month." [Washington Post, 10/20/09; FCC release, 9/21/09]

ACLU: Net neutrality is "necessary to protect freedom and innovation on the Internet." The American Civil Liberties Union, which works to "defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country, " states that "[i]mmediate restoration of well-established Net Neutrality principles is necessary to protect freedom and innovation on the Internet."

Free Press: Claim that net neutrality means government censorship "is completely backward." Addressing myths about net neutrality, Free Press, a nonprofit organization "working to reform the media," stated that net neutrality "promotes free speech and consumer choice of content and applications":

Myth #9: "The Obama administration wants the government to become the Web's traffic cop, shutting down free speech on the Internet.

Reality: This argument is completely backward. Network Neutrality is the First Amendment of the Internet. It promotes free speech and consumer choice of content and applications. Network Neutrality ensures consumers -- not the FCC, and not ISPs -- are the ones determining how they want to use the Internet.

Without the FCC stepping in to prevent discrimination, the ISPs will be free to choose whose voices are more important on the Internet. It is simply disingenuous to suggest that by enacting rules to promote the widest dissemination of all forms of speech, the FCC is somehow going to act as a censor.

Markey: Legislation "not about government regulation of the Internet. It's about fair rules of the road for the companies that now control access." Legislation introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) would actually limit the ability of Internet Service Providers to control content. The bill would require Internet Service Providers -- such as telephone and cable service providers -- to "not block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair, or degrade the ability of any person to use an Internet access service to access, use, send, post, receive, or offer any lawful content, application, or service through the Internet." In a March 22 Politico op-ed, Markey wrote that the legislation "stipulates that unfettered access to the Internet to offer and use content, services and applications is vital for consumers and our economy." He further wrote: "Net neutrality is not about government regulation of the Internet. It's about fair rules of the road for the companies that now control access."

Internet pioneers and leaders credit net neutrality as guiding principle in growth and competition

"Father of the internet" and pioneering scientists support net neutrality rules. In an October 15, 2009, letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, Internet pioneers Vinton G. Cerf, Stephen D. Crocker, David P. Reed, Lauren Weinstein, and Daniel Lynch wrote, "We believe that the vast numbers of innovative Internet applications over the last decade are a direct consequence of an open and freely accessible Internet." The scientists also stated that the "network neutrality proposal's key principles of 'nondiscrimination' and 'transparency' are necessary components of a pro-innovation public policy agenda for this nation. ... [N]etwork neutrality proposals will help protect U.S. Internet users' choices for and freedom to access all available Internet services, worldwide." As FoxNews.com itself notes, Cerf is "often called 'the father of the Internet.' "

Internet pioneering companies support net neutrality for growth and creativity. In an October 19, 2009, letter to Genachowski, the CEOs of Amazon.com, Craigslist, Digg, eBay, Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter, among numerous others, wrote in support of net neutrality, stating that "America's leadership in the technology space has been due, in large part, to the open Internet." From the letter:

For most of the Internet's history, FCC rules have ensured that consumers have been able to choose the content and services they want over their Internet connections. Entrepreneurs, technologists, and venture capitalists have previously been able to develop new online products and services with the guarantee of neutral, nondiscriminatory access by users, which has fueled an unprecedented era of economic growth and creativity. Existing businesses have been able to leverage the power of the Internet to develop innovative product lines, reach new consumers, and create new ways of doing business.

[...]

America's leadership in the technology space has been due, in large part, to the open Internet. We applaud your leadership in initiating a process to develop rules to ensure that the qualities that have made the Internet so successful are protected.

Berners-Lee, described by Fox News as the World Wide Web's creator, calls net neutrality vital for innovation, diversity. In a June 2006 post on his blog, Tim Berners-Lee -- who FoxNews.com noted "created a computer-based system for sharing information with colleagues around the world [World Wide Web]" -- wrote: "When I invented the Web, I didn't have to ask anyone's permission. Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it freely. I am worried that that is going end in the USA. ... I hope that Congress can protect net neutrality, so I can continue to innovate in the internet space. I want to see the explosion of innovations happening out there on the Web, so diverse and so exciting, continue unabated."

Investors who "brought us the Mac, Tweets and Internet search" support net neutrality. WashingtonPost.com telecommunications reporter Cecilia Kang noted on October 20, 2009, that the "people who invested the money that eventually brought us the Mac, Tweets and Internet search ... threw their support behind a push for proposed net neutrality rules, saying clear regulations that prevent Internet services providers from blocking the applications they help fund would spur growth in one of the brightest sectors of the economy." The investors stated in a letter that the "promise of permanently securing an open Internet will deliver consumers and innovators a perfect free market that drives investment, job creation, and consumer welfare." Kang reported that the letter's signers included investors who helped start Amazon, Sun Microsystems, Google, Skype, Hotmail, Twitter, and Yelp.

Google: "Internet has operated according to this neutrality principle since its earliest days," allowing innovation. In its explanation of net neutrality, Google wrote that the "Internet has operated according to this neutrality principle since its earliest days. Indeed, it is this neutrality that has allowed many companies, including Google, to launch, grow, and innovate. Fundamentally, net neutrality is about equal access to the Internet. In our view, the broadband carriers should not be permitted to use their market power to discriminate against competing applications or content. Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online."

Conservative groups supporting net neutrality apparently not buying conspiracy theory that government could control content

Christian Coalition: Net neutrality important for nondiscrimination, part of Internet's history of growth. The Christian Coalition states that support for net neutrality "is an issue extremely important to America's grassroots organizations and to those Americans who want to ensure the cable and phone companies controlling access to the Internet will not discriminate. ... Net Neutrality is the reason why the Internet has grown the way it has and become such an indespensible [sic] tool in our lives and our civic discourse." Jim Backlin of the Christian Coalition has further written that net neutrality is about "the ability of diverse voices and alternative views to continue to be heard."

Parents Television Council, Gun Owners of America are charter members of Free Press' Save the Internet campaign. Free Press is the coalition coordinator of Save the Internet, a group of people and organizations that "are working together to urge Congress to preserve Net Neutrality." Charter members of the group include the Christian Coalition, Gun Owners of America, and the Parents Television Council, whose founder, Brent Bozell, frequently appears on Fox News.

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