The free-wheelin’ days of the Internet are numbered. The Internet now becomes subject to Federal encroachment with the new net neutrality regs. It is not clear if the FCC has the authority to regulate the Internet, and that proposition might be tested in court, but they went ahead and grabbed the power anyway.
The most immediate impact is on Internet stocks: cable is up, phone companies are down, and content companies have gone up a bit then plateaued. Google and Apple went down when the news broke.
It is perhaps no coincidence that this is breaking when WIkiLeaks is under assault. Julian Assange is in jail under a somewhat odd (if not trumped up) sex charge from Sweden, and he may fall into the clutches of the US government.
Where are the civil liberty folks when we need them? Is it that hard to compare WikiLeaks to The New York Times, and the private who illegally leaked to Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers? Or are web sites about to lose the protections of the First Amendment, including Freedom of the Press?
Instead, it is left to the WSJ of all places to expose the forces behind net neutrality, which are probably not what you think they are. John Fund unveiled what led to this decision and the motivations behind it – which are to control content, not simply price the fast lanes of the info highway:
The net neutrality vision for government regulation of the Internet began with the work of Robert McChesney, a University of Illinois communications professor who founded the liberal lobby Free Press in 2002. Mr. McChesney’s agenda? “At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies,” he told the website SocialistProject in 2009. “But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”
There is a lot of blather flying around the blogosphere over this, and over McChesney’s background, and the story could easily blow this out of all proportion. The current administration did, however, try to shut Fox News out of the flow of press briefings by the While House, and have floated the idea of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine in order to shut down talk radio in general and critics like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck in particular. Their record on a free press is already suspect.
The FCC decision today is much more limited, but might be the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. This is the angle taken by TechCrunch, which views the fight as just beginning. GigaOm focused on the disparate treatment of wireline and wireless networks, expecting wireless broadband prices to rise. VentureBeat found the exemption of wireless networks “a bit of a head scratcher.”
The capstone to this story might be the old adage to be careful what you wish for. Big Internet content companies like Google have been lobbying for some sort of net neutrality rules, and may someday wish they had left things alone.