There have been a lot of stupid net neutrality claims over the years. Net neutrality will somehow prevent ISPs from investing in networks is a common one. So are the claims that net neutrality will result in internet brown outs, trample ISPs’ First Amendment rights, result in a return to the Fairness Doctrine, or that it’s essentially “Obamacare for the internet.” Underpinning most of these arguments is the grand daddy of them all: the intentionally-divisive claim that net neutrality is a partisan issue to begin with.
But former FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth may have done the impossible: he’s plattered what may just be the dumbest net neutrality argument ever made. In his editorial over at Capx titled “Why ISIS Celebrates the FCC’s Network Neutrality Rules,” Furchtgott-Roth actually goes so far as to suggest meaningful net neutrality helps ISIS/Daesh. At the core of his stale argument is the idea that net neutrality rules somehow violate giant broadband ISPs’ First Amendment rights:
“In autocratic countries like China and Iran, it is the government that decides which Internet content is permissible, and which must be censored. Individuals have no choice. Under the new network neutrality rules, which prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, the FCC dictates to businesses offering broadband services which parts of the Internet they must offer—all of it.
At first blush, this might sound reasonable, and certainly preferable to the government censorship that pervades much of the world. But the First Amendment protects not only the right to speak without government interference but also the right to remain silent and the right not to be coerced into speech by the government. Nowhere is the right to be free from compelled speech more important than the Internet.
You know you’re off to a solid, logical start when you try to compare regulations that protect free speech, with the type of online censorship that’s common in both Iran and China. As for net neutrality rules violating ISPs’ First Amendment rights, we’ve repeatedly noted that’s bunk. Basically, ISP lawyers threw every claim they could at the wall in the hopes that something would stick. But net neutrality rules don’t violate ISPs’ free speech rights because throttling and dicking about with network traffic is not speech. In the case of net neutrality, most financially-objective people realize the threat is the ISP as censor.
It’s worth noting that the bigger ISPs (AT&T, Comcast, Verizon) have been backing away from this claim in recent months in court filings, seemingly aware that it wasn’t going to be an effective tactic. And indeed, during last week’s oral arguments in the neutrality case the three Judges involved seemed to indicate it’s an argument that won’t be getting any serious traction. Still, Furchtgott-Roth (who since his stint with the FCC has bounced around telecom industry think tanks defending horrible business practices) uses that argument as the foundation for the dumbest net neutrality argument ever made:
“In an America with network neutrality rules, purveyors of indecent material and groups such as…