Supporters of neutrality regulation often claim the mantle of defenders of free speech. Even the pending Senate telecom bill–which largely avoids comprehensive neutrality rules–includes a section on “Application of the First Amendment,” stating that no ISP may limit content based on “religious views, political views, or any other views expressed in such content.”
The problem, however, is that the First Amendment covers governmental, not private restrictions on speech. Moreover, as Randy May of Maryland’s Free State Foundation argues this week in Broadcasting and Cable magazine, such limits may violate–rather than further–First Amendment principles. As he points out:
Under traditional First Amendment jurisprudence, it is as much a free-speech infringement to compel an entity to convey messages it does not wish to convey as it is to prevent it from conveying messages it wishes to convey.
Going farther, he says that:
….When you think about it, laws imposing “neutrality” are eerily reminiscent of the defunct Fairness Doctrine that required broadcasters to present a balanced view of controversial issues.
The last point is particularly interesting. Given that a fair number of neutrality regulation proponents have also argued for the Fairness Doctrine, one wonders if they would disagree with the comparison.
A fuller version of May’s argument was published by the Free State Foundation here. Worth reading.