Critics of net neutrality in the US have come up with a particularly ingenious talking point, one that borrows the loaded rhetoric of the Tea Party movement while casting communications regulators as the enemies of freedom.
Net neutrality, warned new Republican House Speaker John Boehner in his opening salvo last week, represents nothing less than a “government takeover of the internet“.
“As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “there is no compromise or middle ground when it comes to protecting our most basic freedoms.”
Marsha Blackburn, the conservative congresswoman leading the charge against net neutrality in Washington, went one step further. Offering to speak on behalf of the entire creative community of online content providers, she declared: “They do not want a czar of the internet to determine when they can deploy their creativity over the internet.”
Net neutrality is, of course, the exact opposite of the freedom-trampling “government takeover” as it is tarred by opponents in the capital. Net neutrality is internet freedom, not its adversary. The doctrine is designed to protect consumers’ rights to access information that is unfiltered and unrestricted by telecommunications companies that stand to profit from what could constitute, come to think of it, a “corporate takeover of the internet”.
“The only freedom they are providing for,” Democratic Senator Al Franken and several colleagues snapped back at Republicans in a recent letter, “is the freedom of telephone and cable companies to determine the future of the internet, where you can go on it, what you can attach to it, and which services will win or lose on it.”
The freedom bickering has intensified in the last week, as newly empowered conservatives in Congress began an effort to cut off funding for the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality plans. On Wednesday, they held another hearing on the topic in a House communications and technology subcommittee.
Conservatives are counting in the showdown on their pithy catchphrase. Net neutrality, as a concept, is a messy one to grasp. But a “government takeover the internet” it is not. In fact, it’s likely many of the politicians warning of such a future don’t truly understand the stakes themselves. But once they’ve been framed as an affront to individual liberty, many Americans won’t need to hear much more.