The misguided net neutrality freak-out

THE MISGUIDED NET NEUTRALITY FREAK-OUT…. There have been some pretty significant breakthroughs among federal policymakers over the last week, but one appears to have been largely lost in the shuffle is net neutrality.

As you may have heard — or perhaps not, given all of the other developments of late — the Federal Communications Commission approved a net neutrality measure after more than a year of deliberations. It was the first Internet regulation ever endorsed by FCC members, and is intended to ensure “unimpeded access to any legal Web content for home Internet users.”

For some in the online community, the advance was a disappointment — many net neutrality proponents hoped to see the FCC go much further. But George Zornick noted yesterday that the apoplexy on the right is just bizarre.

[Tuesday], the Federal Communications Commission passed “network neutrality” regulations, which aim to ensure equal access to all legal Internet content. Service providers will not be allowed to block rival services, nor will they be able to divide traffic to certain sites into fast and slow lanes, thus giving priority to preferred web content providers. The new regulations are still opposed by many open internet groups for not going far enough, and came after years of debate and millions of dollars of lobbying.

The announcement of a new federal regulation prompted a characteristic outburst from conservative leaders, who have consistently fear-mongered against net neutrality regulations as an evil progressive scheme to control the Internet. On the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused the Obama administration of trying to “nationalize” and “control” the Internet; radio host Rush Limbaugh also said Obama just took over the Internet (at the behest of George Soros, of course) and suggested Hugo Chavez would be jealous.

I suppose it’s possible that these Republicans are just deeply confused, have absolutely no idea what net neutrality is, and are spewing nonsense just to rile up right-wing activists. It’s also possible these Republicans know the truth, but are shamelessly lying as part of a larger campaign to scare unsuspecting conservatives about a “big government” bogeyman.

But it’s worth appreciating the fact that the rhetoric from prominent GOP voices really is unhinged. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) insisted that “unelected, unaccountable Democrat [sic] FCC commissioners are taking over the Internet.” Incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the policy “another government takeover.” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) told a national television audience yesterday, “[W]e’re starting to see the FCC say, ‘You have to come to us to get permission to manage your own website.'”

The incoming chairman of the House Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), has even vowed extensive hearings, in the hopes of using “every resource available” to halt the new regulations.

This is a classic case of the Republican position having absolutely no relation to reality at any level. It’s just crazy. These folks are either lying or ignorant — those are the only two options. The irony is, the whole point of net neutrality is to protect consumers from the very restrictions Republicans are whining about. The far-right rhetoric isn’t just wrong; it’s the opposite of the truth.

Jamelle Bouie argued, “At this point, most conservatives are reflexively anti-liberal. If liberals like something, then conservatives will find a reason to hate it, even when the rationale is absurd. In this case, conservatives should want to maintain a free and open internet, but since both are associated with liberals, they don’t.”

This clearly has a lot of merit. I’d add, however, that massive checks from telecommunications companies to Republican candidates also helps “persuade” GOP policymakers.