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For the better part of a decade, companies like Google and IAC/InterActiveCorp have been pushing for the federal government to regulate the Internet in the name of net neutrality, and I’ve been fighting them every step of the way.
We beat them in Congress.
We beat them in the courts.
We beat them in public opinion.
But we lost to them on a 3-2 party line vote at the Federal Communications Commission, led by long-time IAC/InterActiveCorp general counsel turned FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. The FCC’s unlawful order gives that commission the self-appointed power to regulate how the broadband networks that comprise the Internet operate. (At least until courts again weigh in and stop them.)
This is an ongoing, high-stakes fight over whether the physical infrastructure of the Internet will remain a competitive, free-market, innovative foundation for the broader technology sector and the U.S. economy, or be reduced to something more like a regulated utility or even a government-owned-and-operated network.
Google and its allies have for years argued that a free-market, unregulated Internet will result in Internet service providers blocking web sites, disrupting services, and otherwise wreaking havoc, ignoring the obvious effectiveness of competition to discipline such abuses. They’ve told us that only benevolent government regulators can protect us.
Net neutrality regulations benefit those companies, of course, by ensuring they won’t pay any of the cost of building broadband networks, leaving those considerable costs to fall completely on consumers and taxpayers.
So I’m suffering from serious cognitive dissonance when the very same companies that have adamantly pursued regulation of the physical networks that comprise the Internet have now taken to the airwaves in eight states in opposition to SOPA with a radio ad that says:
“New onerous regulations are the last thing we need from Washington as our nation is struggling to get back on its feet. But in our nation’s capitol some members of Congress are trying to pass a bill that would do just that, regulate the internet, the one part of our economy that has been growing. That makes no sense.”
It sounds like they took notes on our fight against their net neutrality regulatory push and adopted our messages as their own. This from a group of companies, NetCoalition, whose website boasts its lobbyist Markham Erickson “serves as lead counsel to Google, eBay, Amazon.com, IAC, Skype, and other Internet and technology companies… advocating for ‘network neutrality’ before the FCC, the FTC, and the U.S. Congress.” The leading advocate of regulating the Internet now appears as an opponent of regulating the Internet.
The only thing consistent in Google’s position is the belief that what’s best for Google always trumps the property interests of others. The companies that spend billions of dollars and employ tens of thousands of people doing the very expensive and time-consuming work of building the physical networks that comprise the Internet? Regulate them to grant Google access to their networks at terms that favor Google. Property rights holders concerned that Google is promoting the sale of counterfeit goods and generating revenue from property that isn’t theirs? They should have no recourse.
Perhaps I’m too cynical, and Google, IAC/InterActiveCorp, and the rest have had a genuine free-market conversion. Perhaps they’ve seen that government regulation can have unintended consequences. In that case I would call on them to publicly denounce their years of advocating net neutrality regulation and to urge the FCC to rescind its order regulating broadband Internet access. But somehow I doubt that will happen.
Whatever you think about SOPA, nobody should be fooled into believing Google and its allies are any less committed to regulating the Internet than they’ve always been.
Phil Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity and author of “Democracy Denied: How Obama is Ignoring You and Bypassing Congress to Radically Transform America – and How to Stop Him,” available at www.DemocracyDenied.org.