Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Slippery Slope Alert: Nationalizing the Internet?

This morning our friends at Kansas Progress had a post entitled "Will Obama nationalize the Internet?" The post, which referenced this article by Pejman Yousefzadeh from another great site, RedState.com, discussing the increasing rhetoric from the Obama administration which seems to indicate a desire to nationalize the internet.

For any blog or website dedicated to free speech and free discussion, this kind of talk is downright scary and should put us on all alert.

The RedState.com article focuses on quotes from Susan Crawford, co-chair of Obama's FCC transition team and a special assistant to the president. She's actually got a blog, too. They discussed an article in the Wall Street Journal in which she was interviewed as well as her own blog post here.

The quote in the Wall Street Journal article that raised the attention of RedState and Kansas Progress, and ours as well, was this:

Crawford stressed that the stimulus money is a down payment on future government investments in the Internet. “We should do a better job as a nation of making sure fast, affordable broadband is as ubiquitous as electricity, water, snail mail or any other public utility,” she said.

To put it simply, she wants to make the internet like any other public utility. While this sounds warm and fuzzy and probably sounds reasonable to a lot of Americans, it is the type of reasoning that could set off a slippery slope of dangerous government intervention in a medium where it should have very little.

This isn't about access, though. The argument for access might be a gateway to get the general public to listen, but the agenda is deeper than that...it's an agenda of control and nationalization. Check out this part of her post:

That’s the thing we have to change — the idea that it’s unthinkable (amusing, even) that we could take this increasingly singular but private relationship of people to broadband internet access and make it a public relationship.

No, this is NOT something we "have to change", Ms. Crawford, unless you want control over a private industry and -- we'll touch on this later -- through strings, what people are saying too. She essentially admits this desire for control here:

But end-users really don’t care whether their provider is a cable company or a telephone company — they think they’re getting the internet. They’re probably not even aware that a private company is providing internet access to them. And there are even a few people out there in the U.S., despite our best efforts, who don’t understand that these private companies have every incentive to prioritize and manipulate their way into showing us “channels” instead of the internet.

God forbid a private internet access company have the incentive to motivate our actions in some way. That is the defintion of the free market. People are free to read this blog or not read it. To subscribe to Yahoo or Google or Facebook or simply use their computer for e-mail.

She then drops this line, which should send us all on a "writing to our Congressman" binge:

This re-framing isn't easy. We haven't nationalized an industry in a while. It's not clear that our government would even be particularly good at making fast internet access into a true public priority and resource.

If there is any doubt about the agenda of Obama and the people he's surrounded himself with, this should leave no doubt.

Make no mistake -- the desire to get as many people access to fast Internet is a noble one. But that alone should not be reason for us to cede to the government such a critical aspect of modern day first amendment expression and free economic enterprise as the Internet is.

First of all, philosophical and role-of-government considerations aside, there is the very real question about whether the government could even provide this "public utility" efficiently. Crawford even admits this when she talks about a true government "priority".

Any nationalization effort, despite Crawford's Utopian belief that this is necessary, would likely be a colossal failure in terms of truly providing people access in any kind of efficient way.

But that's not our main concern here. Our concern is the entire notion of making the Internet a "public utility" a priority for the government in the first place!

This is just another attempt by Obama and liberals to nationalize everything possible either through direct government consolidation, regulations, financial support, or taxes -- or some combination thereof.

It is impossible to know the exact motivation of every liberal politician, activist, or bureaucrat.
They will use fuzzy buzzwords to justify their government takeovers. For the banking industry, it was "stability of our economy". For credit cards, it's about the "consumer". For the auto industry, it's about "workers". For the bailouts and high deficits, it's about "preventing a depression". Now for the Internet, it's about "access".

In all cases, but most particularly this one regarding the Internet, this is the classic slippery slope. We've gone from a noble goal of promoting access to broadband to an open advocacy for nationalizing an industry. What worries us is what that slope will then lead to.

The Internet as a "public utility" means that theoretically, there are strings of control there as well -- including but not limited to content, speech, and even privacy. The fact is, many of us participate on the net -- through forums, blogs, and the like -- because of it's anonymity. This can both be good and bad, but it's generally a good -- as it promotes the free exchange of ideas with eventually cream rising to the top.

However, here is the catch. If forced to, Internet companies can eventually find out who we are. That's no secret. Though you are anonymous at first, if someone knows the right information, you really aren't.

Now imagine government in control of access and thus everything related to access. It's one thing to provide government temporary information to root out illegality and crime, but to nationalize access is to open the door to control and regulation far beyond anything even remotely related to the original goal, which was allowing people on the net.

And it's not as if it's hard to imagine either. People who want to regulate what we all say are a dime a dozen. No, they won't come out and say directly they want to limit first amendment rights, but they will try to achieve the same goal through the dangerous tentacles of government involvement and control.

The consequences are great and this should be resisted. People like Susan Crawford need to be stopped. If they aren't, in the not-too-distant future, we will see our Internet access controlled, privacy violated, and speech regulated -- all for the sake of access.

In our eyes, access controlled by government will eventually lead to only one thing: access denied.