‘Net Neutrality’ Is Socialism, Not Freedom

Published October 20, 2009

Advocates of imposing “network neutrality” say it’s necessary to ensure a “free” and “open” Internet and rescue the public from nefarious corporations that “control” technology.

Few proposals in Washington have been sold employing such deceptive language — and that’s saying something. But few public policy ideas can boast the unashamedly socialist pedigree of net neutrality.

The modern Internet is a creation of the free market, which has brought about a revolution in communication, free speech, education, and commerce. New Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski apparently doesn’t like that. He stated last month the way Internet service providers manage their networks — in response to millions of individual consumer choices — is not sufficiently “fair,” “open” or “free.”

The chairman’s remedy is to claim for the FCC the power to decide how every bit of data is transferred from the Web to every personal computer and handheld device in the nation. This is exactly what the radical founders of the net neutrality movement had in mind.

The concept can be traced to an iconoclastic figure, Richard Stallman, a self-described software freedom activist who introduced the term “copyleft” in the mid-1980s. In his 2002 essay “Free Software, Free Society,” Stallman fiercely attacks the idea that intellectual property rights are one of the keystones of individual liberty, so important that patents and copyrights are affirmatively protected in the body of the Constitution.

According to Stallman, “we are not required to agree with the Constitution or the Supreme Court. [At one time, they both condoned slavery.]” Like slavery, he says, copyright law is “a radical right-wing assumption rather than a traditionally recognized one.” Rebuking those who might find a Marxist flavor in his call for a “digital commons,” Stallman turns the tables, writing: “If we are to judge views by their resemblance to Russian Communism, it is the software owners who are the Communists.”

Eben Moglen’s 2003 treatise The dotCommunist Manifesto is more honest about the thinking behind net neutrality — it’s sprinkled throughout with the language of communism’s great and bloody revolutionaries. The people must “struggle” to “wrest from the bourgeoisie, by degrees, the shared patrimony of humankind” that has been “stolen from us under the guise of ‘intellectual property.’ “

How does one bring this about? The professor of law and legal history at Columbia University would start with the “abolition of all forms of private property in ideas.”

Most bold and radical of the neutralists is Robert W. McChesney, founder of Free Press — the leading advocacy group in Washington pushing for net neutrality. In an August interview with a Canadian Marxist online publication called the Bullet, McChesney rejoices that net neutrality can finally bring about the Marxist “revolution.”

“At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies,” McChesney said. “We are not at that point yet. But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”

He’s right: Net neutrality divests control over the Internet from the private sector to the government. And in typical Marxist fashion, innocuous words — the language of neutralism and liberty — cloak an agenda that would crush freedom.

That’s the agenda President Obama’s FCC is pushing.

James G. Lakely is co-director of the Center on the Digital Economy for the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank. His policy study, “Neutralism: The Strange Philosophy Behind the Movement for Net Neutrality,” can be found at www.heartland.org.