NOT "as in Beer," Please!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The apparently good news is that the FCC sounds almost like it is about to borrow a page from Ayn Rand's own playbook:

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is likely to consider a plan this month to auction public airwaves...
But then the shoe immediately drops to the floor with a loud thud:
... with a mandate that the winning bidder set aside some for free Internet nationwide, a proposal staunchly opposed by the cell phone industry.
So, instead of the winning bidder actually owning the airwaves with no strings attached (which is what Rand called for), he will be a government pawn, sometimes taking orders from the government, and sometimes using his "property" as the government will permit, or hadn't gotten around to prohibiting yet. (Historically, we have moved from auctioning off others as slaves to auctioning off ourselves! We ought to try ending slavery, in all its forms, instead.)

Predictably, the government will not only tell this new ISP what it may or may not transmit, it will also place its foot in the door of regulating all Internet content.
Also lining up against Martin's proposal are free speech advocates, who don't like a provision that would require the winning bidder to block pornography and other offensive content from the free Internet access. (See Note below.)
"Other offensive content," as determined by the government? It is disappointing enough (although par for the course) that a Republican would make such a proposal, but a shocking display of stupidity that one would make it on the eve of his own party becoming the minority opposition even as the Democrats are already pondering some way to effectively bring back the "Fairness" Doctrine, and expand it to include the Internet. Yes. Let's introduce government regulation into the only medium that is not already under the thumb of the government!

If this happens, brace yourselves for some pragmatist businessman to demand a "level playing field" for all ISPs -- by regulating all "equally", of course. Arguing to repeal such nonsense would be too troublesome, and pragmatism is all about taking the path of least resistance.

I fully agree with Alex Epstein of the Ayn Rand Institute, who discussed this proposal a little over a year ago and closed with the following.
Americans need to start recognizing airwaves as the private property they really are, and demand the abolition of the FCC. Then the government can hold a fair and just auction for the 700 MHz spectrum, and the others, in which each spectrum is not licensed but sold--no strings attached.
Not only would the current proposal not really be a sale, but it would greatly expand government power to violate individual rights.

-- CAV

Note: The very next sentence in this "paragraph" is:
Another concern is whether investors are willing to create the needed infrastructure for free Internet access in the recession-hit economy.
If a paragraph is supposed to be a complete unit of thought, why are these two sentences together? The first sentence details a legitimate argument against the government doing something that will fling the door wide open for it to violate freedom of speech, while the second merely describes something properly of concern only to someone wanting to build a big, free wireless network.

A quote an activist shortly afterwards explains what's going on: "Everybody likes the concept -- free broadband, free access to the Internet -- but in practice, the way the model is set up, it may present problems."

Thus the debate is not over whether we will get "free" (read: government-controlled) Internet, but how. And with the economy a mess, there might not be enough short-sighted people with money to throw around to make this happen.


: Corrected a typo.

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