In an editorial in yesterday’s Washington Post, Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America, joins Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in calling for congressional investigation of purported censorship by wireless operators. Combs, who has vociferously argued for net-neutrality regulation for communications and Internet companies, is now stepping up those calls, claiming that private companies want to squelch speech over wired or wireless networks. “We’re asking Congress to convene hearings on whether existing law is sufficient to guarantee the free flow of information and to protect against corporate censorship,” Combs and Keenan write.
Prompting this latest call for regulation was an incident two weeks ago in which Verizon Wireless blocked text messages from NARAL. Verizon admitted that it had made a mistake and immediately changed its policy. But net-neutrality fans like NARAL and Christian Coalition say that the incident shows why a Fairness Doctrine for the communications and online sector is essential. In reality, as I point out in my latest City Journal column, the incident proved the opposite: the message got out, and this episode is hardly an excuse for imposing Net neutrality mandates on the Internet. Read on…
A Fairness Doctrine for the Internet
Brought to you by NARAL—and the Christian Coalition
18 October 2007
The perversely named Fairness Doctrine, which threatened licensed broadcasters with fines if they didn’t “afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views,” as the government defined it, has shown up in the news again recently, as federal lawmakers and liberal media activists have called for increased regulation of a media marketplace that they feel is spinning out of their control. But the push to reimpose the doctrine—which the Reagan administration abandoned in the late 1980s as obsolete and harmful to free speech—may be mostly a diversionary tactic. The Left has a much bigger target in its regulatory crosshairs: the Internet. Over the past few years, many of the same policymakers and activists who have long trumpeted the Fairness Doctrine have advocated that its rough equivalent apply to Internet service providers. And they’ve come up with another Orwellian term for the proposal: “net neutrality.”
In theory, net-neutrality regulation would ban Internet operators from treating some bits of online traffic or communications more favorably than others, whether for economic or political purposes. Proponents of net neutrality use the same kind of fantastic rhetoric to describe it that they once used for the Fairness Doctrine: it’s a way to “save the Internet” from “media barons,” they say, who’re apparently hell-bent on controlling all our thoughts and activities. As City Journal’s Brian Anderson notes, “It’s thus not hard to imagine a network neutrality law as the first step toward a Web fairness doctrine, with government trying to micromanage traffic flows to secure ‘equal treatment’ of opposing viewpoints (read: making sure all those noisy right-wingers get put back in their place).”
It’s a brilliant tactic by the Left. Why exert all your energy attempting to reimpose “fairness” mandates on broadcasters alone when you can capture them, and much more, by regulating the entire Internet? After all, in a world of media convergence and abundance, bright lines dividing distinct media sectors or their products have vanished. Everything from TV shows to text messages run on multiple networks, making the old, broadcast-oriented Fairness Doctrine a less effective means of reestablishing a liberal media monopoly. So the liberals got smart and came up with the perfect solution: use net neutrality as a backdoor way to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine on the entire media marketplace.