According to the Wall Street Journal, Congressional Republicans have drafted a bill that “is designed to protect net neutrality—the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally—without applying the part of telecommunications law that regulates common carriers.”
While I would like to say I am surprised that Republicans have drafted their own version of net neutrality legislation, I’m not. At its root, net neutrality laws are statist attempts to control how private business manage their property, in this case the physical servers, cables and so on which make up the internet. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of politicians, Republican or Democrat, are at their core statists. They believe that the government should play a role in virtually every aspect of an individual’s life. The only disagreement between them is which areas should be interfered with, and, sometimes, to what extent.
Free Market But Brigade
On Wednesday, Sir Salman Rushdie gave a talk at the University of Vermont on the power of stories. At the very end he answered a question about the murder of the staff of Charlie Hebdo by Islamic jihadists and one part of his answer stuck out for me. He expressed his disdain for what he called the “but brigade,” those who say “I believe in free speech, but…” I see many Republicans as members of another version of this, the free market but brigade. They believe in individual rights and a free market, but…
That Republicans often seem to support individual rights simply means they are less consistently statist, but does not change the fact that this is what they essentially are. The Democrats and others on the left are much more consistent in this way, which is bad news for the individual. As Ayn Rand wrote in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal:
In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.
Given that statism, government control, is the common basic principle of both major parties we will almost certainly get more of it and less and even less of the often half-hearted protection of individual rights, of capitalism, we have today.
One can almost sympathize with the Republicans who hope that by offering the proponents of net-neutrality the controls over how internet service providers run their business they can avoid the even more onerous regulations that would come if the internet came under the control of Title II. (Think of the fees and taxes on your phone bill or any story of a utility begging permission to change their rates or services.)
I say almost sympathize because I think that the Republicans, the party which claims to be for a limited government which has the sole purpose of protecting individual rights, could certainly have come up with something better than their current proposal. While it would be too much to hope for any politician, Republican or otherwise, to present a bill calling for the end of any government involvement in the economy save such laws as protect the rights of individuals from force or fraud, perhaps they could have proposed something like:
Recognizing the tremendous importance of the Internet to growth and innovation, its tremendous contribution to the American economy and further that since it has achieved these things without burdensome regulations we resolve that there shall be no changes to existing regulations concerning the Internet, nor any new regulations enacted, save those that shall be passed by Congress and signed by the President.
It is not perfect, but it would be a step in the right direction, not just for the internet but for the country as a whole. While it would not prevent Congress from passing laws to violate the property rights of the ISPs, it would at least begin to reign in such violations from taking place at the hands of unelected, often highly politicized, easily manipulated regulatory agencies such as the FCC.
Steve Simpson from the Ayn Rand Institute has a great video on net-neutrality and its effects.