Will the Government Take Over the Internet?


By: Deal W. Hudson

How many times have you been on an important cell-phone call, and suddenly the call is dropped? Whether you pay for service from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or any other service provider, dead zones are unhappy facts of daily life.

For the past few years, phone companies have been encouraged to invest in expanding infrastructure — making the dead zones come alive — by a 2003 ruling of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). That ruling kept phone companies from being required to lease access to their fiber lines to competitors.

As a result, Verizon invested $23 billion in constructing its all-fiber FIOS network that provides Internet, cable TV, and phone service. AT&T has been aggressively expanding its coverage as well. But the effort to eliminate dead zones and provide quicker Internet and higher-quality cable TV may slow down in the near future.

Following the leadership of the Obama White House, the FCC is considering a reversal of their 2003 decision. At the request of an Atlanta company, Cbeyond, the FCC would force AT&T and Verizon to lease their Internet lines to rival companies. Cbeyond — whose present lines are significantly slower than those of the major phone companies — wants access to their rivals’ lines in order to offer their Internet services to small businesses.

By forcing Verizon and AT&T to share their lines, the FCC would effectively be putting the Internet under government control. Government control of the Internet is precisely what the Obama administration wants with its support of “net neutrality” — the idea that there should be no restrictions or priorities on the type of content carried over the Internet by the carriers and ISPs. It states that all traffic be treated equally, regardless of where it originated or to where it is destined.

“I’m a big believer in net neutrality,” President Obama proclaimed only a few days ago while reaffirming his backing of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

The fight over net neutrality has been dwarfed in the public square by the struggling economy, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the health-care debate. But if the FCC acts to hand control of the Internet over to the Obama administration, there will be one more populist explosion, which this White House and Congress don’t need.

The groups backing net neutrality, such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, are opposed to companies like Verizon creating different levels of service by charging a higher cost for faster service. Other religious groups, such as the Christian Coalition, have argued that this kind of tiered service could also lead to “discrimination” against religious content for two reasons: Verizon executives may decide to filter religious content they find objectionable, and religious organizations may not be able to afford the faster service.

Other groups are opposed to net neutrality. An assembly of religious and conservative leaders representing twelve organizations wrote a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, arguing that an Internet kept “open” by government regulation puts families at risk:

It is critically important for parents and broadband service providers to continue to have these tools available to them because despite what network neutrality proponents may say, all content on the web is not equal and should not be treated equally. Network management is not some insidious method of stifling voices on the Internet; network management is critical to stop pornographers and pedophiles from having unfettered access to consumers’ Internet connections.

Why would religious organizations, like the new version of the Christian Coalition and the USCCB, back a policy forcing broadband service providers to treat pornography the same as content welcomed by families? Net neutrality, in addition to adding to government power and control, would mean that every decision to block pornography, or any kind of security threat, would have to be approved by the government.

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Deal W. Hudson is the director of InsideCatholic.com and the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon and Schuster).

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