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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Government Regulation of the Internet

There have been numerous articles written over the past few months about the government and the Internet, including...

...FCC seeks regulatory control over the Internet

...Bill would give the President emergency control over the Internet

I take issue to both ideas, although I concede that the second point (emergency powers) is a foregone conclusion, at least in the event of a true national emergency.

Regarding the FCC, my personal view is that the agency has a long history of over-reaching and downright silliness and is incapable of effectively regulating anything. They are bureaucratic buffoons. This is the agency that was infamous for going after broadcasters for "foul" language (Howard Stern, Bono, Cher) while seemingly never having a problem with egregious violence on TV. Yup, you can't reference bodily fluids or accidentally drop an F-Bomb, but showing someone getting killed 16 ways to Sunday is okay. Oprah Winfrey? She can talk about female body parts all she wants on her talk show, but your average "morning zoo" DJ had better not go there. Let me see the ass of Dennis Franz on TV, but God-forbid I see part of Janet Jackson's breast. None of it makes any sense. For the record, the complaints against Howard Stern in the 1990's were basically the product of one individual writing to the FCC to complain. Millions of people listened to his show every morning and were not offended, but since one person was (a person who was fully capable of turning the show off but chose not to) it warranted repeated fines. Is that in any way, shape or form reasonable?

What do I want? I want as little government control over media as is practical and possible. I think Rush Limbaugh is a (and I quote) "chicken-hawk, drug-addict, hypocrite", but you know what? My personal standards shouldn't prevent someone who actually believes his spew from having access to it. I can simply choose not listen to Oxycontin's most well known addict. If the government shouldn't regulate political speech, then it shouldn't regulate most other forms of speech as well.

Should there be some standards? Yes, of course. I don't want to hear or see people torturing animals or raping children and I don't want porn broadcast over the public airwaves. But if I can see something in a museum...such as a female breast...then I'm thinking that it is probably okay to see on television. Let's also not forget that parents...not the government...should be exercising control over children. Don't want your 10 year old to repeat what he heard Don Imus say on the radio this morning? Then don't listen to the Imus on the Morning show with your children present.

The above rolls up into a singular point: the FCC is an case study in abject failure that should have no business regulating the Internet in whole or in part.

Regarding emergency power over the Internet, it's probably a forgone conclusion that the government has (or will have) the ability to control the Internet in the event of a national emergency. They key though is that what constitutes an emergency needs to be exceptionally well defined. I want the nation's data networks to be available to the government if it needs them in order to deal with a national disaster, invasion, etc. Some idiot wanting to watch Desperate Housewives on his Iphone should be inconvenienced if it helps to solve an immediate and pressing national problem. However those kinds of emergencies should be very, very, very rare and the reach of the government should be subject to strict time limits.

Look, the Internet is as close to a true artificial human community as mankind has ever produced. I've connected with old friends, made new friends and become a better person because I can interface with the world through a computer. And I am but one of hundreds of millions in this country and over a billion in the world. Let's not allow the government to screw this up in the name of somehow protecting us from ourselves.

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