Since the government does not regulate printing presses in any way, newspapers are free to print whatever they want without pressure from government. On the other hand, since the government does issue and reissue broadcast licenses, broadcast networks must occasionally listen to and be pressured by U.S. Senators seeking to change content that the Senators find offensive — think of the pressure to edit the not-so-Clinton-friendly TV series “Pathway to 911,” the now-auctioned letter to Rush Limbaugh’s partner Clear Channel about language he used allegedly criticizing our troops, and the pressure on Sinclair Broadcasting to avoid airing an unflattering portrait of John Kerry.
Now that newspapers are moving online, what if the FCC comes to regulate the Internet, as might begin to happen should they be given the right to enforce Net Neutrality policies? Would Senators then be able to pressure newspapers to change their content, just as they do in broadcast? Will America have fought a bloody revolution more than 2 centuries ago, in part to earn freedom of the press, only to let it slip away because of issues as complex and seemingly benign as whether Internet Service Providers: 1) can’t send video file transfers at lower priority so they do not clog the Internet, or 2) can charge content providers fees for higher speeds? Those who believe that Internet service providers must treat all packets the same should think twice about undoing the American Revolution.
Those of you who read my blog know that I am very much opposed to net neutrality legislation because I want the Internet to be as free of government control as newspapers. After all, freedom from government is what the First Amendment’s free speech and free press clauses are all about. It literally took an American revolution to rid our newspapers of government pressure. And our wimpy, pro-establishment, network news programming shows the tell-tale signs of an FCC licensing procedure requiring the networks every few years to prove to political appointees they are “good corporate citizens.” For an example of how hot political talk can be without such licensing requirements, watch cable news.
Government regulation always begins with a call from those who claim they are only trying to right some hard-to-argue-against wrongs, but whose consequences are poorly thought out. Today we learn of a new such party, InternetForEveryone.org, which has a mission so contradictory that it almost makes my head explode. Their ideals call to mind the French Revolutionists, who called for “liberty, equality, and fraternity,” not realizing that liberty and equality are incompatible — that making people equal requires liberty-suppressing force. The new group calls for guaranteed high speed Internet access for everyone (a basic right of all Americans, they say), lower usage prices, more competition, and more innovation. Tell me, if we force Internet providers to give access to everyone, then force them to charge less than the marketplace tells them they should, where will the money come from for innovation? And what would happen to the potential profits that might entice others to join in the competition? Guess it will have to come from taxpayers and that government will have to run the show. InternetForEveryone.org claims to be neutral on the net, but it is surely not neutral on government — they want a lot more of it.
Politicians and lawyers are poised to destroy Internet’s unprecedented opportunity for free speech. U.K. suffers serious setback, U.S. is next. 9/25/07Posted by Steve Boriss in Net Neutrality, Regulation.
In the U.K. last week, a billionaire was unhappy about what a blogger said about him. His lawyers threatened the blog’s totally innocent Internet Service Provider (ISP) with legal action. So, the ISP immediately pulled the plug on that blog and several others, including that of a London Mayoral candidate. In the world’s cradle of freedom, free speech was snuffed-out, just like that.
If you think it can’t happen here in the U.S., you haven’t been paying attention. Here’s Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, “We are all going to have to rethink how we deal with [the Internet] because there are all these competing values … Without any kind of editing function or gatekeeping function, what does it mean to have the right to defend your reputation, or to respond to what someone says?” Here’s FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, “We’re going at it without a policy…Whether it’s broadcast or broadband…you have the right to use these airwaves…But in return for that privilege, you need to be stewards of the public airwaves and serve the public interest.” There’s Google, which is selfishly trying to control its costs by pushing the government to regulate the Internet for the very first time, under the misleadingly-named “net neutrality” initiative. And, there’s several members of Congress itching to restore radio’s Fairness Doctrine, despite and because it successfully increased political debate, much of it unflattering to them.
When the printing press was invented, governments immediately moved to ban dissenting speech through censorship, licensing, prior restraint, and punishment. When broadcasting was invented, the federal government quickly seized control of the broadcast spectrum, assigned licenses for the use of specific frequencies, and made license renewal contingent upon “responsible” programming. That’s why the networks run such dull, plain vanilla, non-controversial news programming that tends to suck-up to those in power. So far, the Internet in the U.S. has been blissfully free of government regulation, retaining the promise of unprecedented opportunities for free speech. Will citizens rise-up and demand that the government keep its hands off the Internet, or will we sit on our hands and fail to protect the free speech of generations to come? So far, it is not looking good.
The resolution of 3 major controversies marked an enormously gratifying week for those sharing Thomas Jefferson’s view that public policy ought to be driven by the collective will of the people, and not unduly influenced by powerful elites. The apparent rejection of Net Neutrality legislation by the FTC may prevent government from taking that first, fateful regulatory step that would no doubt ultimately lead to the regulation of speech on the Internet. This is not a theoretical concern, but one demonstrated time and time again. Congress still can’t seem to keep its hands off of broadcasting, as they are showing in recent efforts to revive a proven free speech-killer, radio’s Fairness Doctrine.
The defeat of the immigration bill was another victory for the people. A bi-partisan conspiracy to address the political and financial needs of an elite few crashed because of a digital roar from the electorate.
The third victory was delivered as an unintended side-effect by a controversial figure. By purchasing the Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch is busting-up two elites: 1) a journalism elite that through its practices has been shutting-out consumer-oriented competitors that might allow the public to decide what news ought to be; and 2) the Bancroft family elite, which used a clever arrangement of voting stock to keep control of the paper despite the much larger financial stake owned by public shareholders. So, let’s take the weekend to celebrate these massive victories of the masses!
Power-hungry Congress and selfish Old/New Media joining forces to threaten potential for unprecedented free speech in future of news 5/10/07Posted by Steve Boriss in Copyright, Free speech, Net Neutrality.
In the history of Man, technology has not been kind to free speech. When the printing press was invented, governments recognized it as an unprecedented opportunity to control anti-government speech, and soon introduced prior restraint, licensing, and censorship. When broadcasting was invented, governments saw another opportunity to limit anti-government speech, and soon seized control of the electromagnetic spectrum, licensed frequencies, and made license renewals contingent upon meeting politically-driven criteria for “responsible programming.” So now we have the Internet – currently a bastion of free speech that not coincidentally remains blissfully outside the control of government. Who can we count on to fight to keep it that way – to avoid the past print/broadcast mistake of allowing the government to regulate free speech? Not Congress, which is itching to add the Internet as another plaything they can regulate. Not Old Media, which is demanding that the federal courts come to their rescue on copyright issues. Not New Media, not even the self-proclaimed, “do no evil” Google, which is selfishly inviting in government to regulate the pricing of the Internet under the nice-sounding, but dangerously-misguided Net Neutrality legislation. Citizens need a heroic advocate to defend their free speech. Someone who will fight to keep the government away from the Internet, preventing that first baby step of regulation in the name of “good government” that will undoubtedly lead to many more. Sadly, that someone is nowhere in sight.
Putin’s new “fairness doctrine” serves as reminder that U.S. has never had a free press in broadcast, dangers of Internet regulation 4/22/07Posted by Steve Boriss in Broadcast, Fairness Doctrine, FCC, Licenses, Net Neutrality, News, Putin, Radio, Regulation, Russia.
Journalists at Russia’s largest “independent” radio news network (apparently owned by cronies of President Putin), have been told that from now on at least 50 percent of the reports about Russia must be “positive,” opposition leaders cannot be mentioned on the air, and the U.S. is to be portrayed as an enemy. While some may scoff and say “it can’t happen here,” in fact all U.S. broadcasters have always felt government pressure that has denied us a truly free press and has chilled free speech. At the birth of broadcasting, the federal government quickly seized control of the broadcast spectrum, assigned licenses for the use of specific frequencies, and made license renewal contingent upon “responsible” programming. Network TV news was invented by CBS founder William Paley, not as a way to make a profit, but to demonstrate responsible behavior to the government, thereby protecting CBS’ licenses to broadcast their profitable entertainment programming. In 1949, the FCC introduced the “Fairness Doctrine” forcing radio stations to air contrasting views whenever political opinions were expressed. The extent to which this squelched free speech was not fully understood until the rule lapsed in 1987, immediately launching the new era of politically-charged talk radio. And, if you have ever wondered why the political talk shows on cable TV channels, which don’t require broadcast licenses, are so much more interesting and informative than those on the broadcast networks, now you know why. Something to think about for those who would invite government regulation of the Internet through the proposed, benignly named “net neutrality” legislation.