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Democracy & Technology Blog “A first step toward content control”

Over at the Washington Times, Internet regulation is being described as an “unholy scheme.” According to Editor Emeritus Wesley Pruden, this is a first step toward content control.

Anyone paying attention can see how this would be a first step toward revival of the so-called Fairness Doctrine, sought by Barack Obama and the Democrats since he first arrived in Washington. The Fairness Doctrine would require broadcasters, definitely including the cable-TV networks, to provide airtime for anyone criticized by someone else on the air. That, too, sounds good to the inattentive and the well-meaning. What could be nicer than never having to hear anyone say discouraging things about you?

John Fund at the Wall Street Journal reveals how Internet regulation is backed by some of the same left-wing foundations that lavishly gave in support of campaign finance laws.

After McCain-Feingold passed, several of the foundations involved in the effort began shifting their attention to “media reform”–a movement to impose government controls on Internet companies somewhat related to the long-defunct “Fairness Doctrine” that used to regulate TV and radio companies. After McCain- Feingold passed, several of the foundations involved in that effort began shifting their attention to “media reform” movement. In a 2005 interview with the progressive website Buzzflash, Mr. McChesney said that campaign-finance reform advocate Josh Silver approached him and “said let’s get to work on getting popular involvement in media policy making.” Together the two founded Free Press.
Free Press and allied groups such as MoveOn.org quickly got funding. Of the eight major foundations that provided the vast bulk of money for campaign-finance reform, six became major funders of the media-reform movement. (They are the Pew Charitable Trusts, Bill Moyers’s Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, the Joyce Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.) Free Press today has 40 staffers and an annual budget of $4 million.

Internet regulation is clearly about restoring an agency that is a monument to the New Deal and that is becoming increasingly irrelevant as communications services migrate to the Internet.
Still, the action the FCC took today was quite modest. Although we have not seen the Order, reports indicate it won’t include the worst features of previous proposals – which would have treated broadband like a commodity and relegated it to common carrier status, even though it is an extremely dynamic industry which continues to deliver better service at lower prices. Now that the draconian proposals are off the table, investors may gain a significant measure of reassurance.

Hance Haney

Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project
Hance Haney served as Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project at the Discovery Institute, in Washington, D.C. Haney spent ten years as an aide to former Senator Bob Packwood (OR), and advised him in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee during the deliberations leading to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He subsequently held various positions with the United States Telecom Association and Qwest Communications. He earned a B.A. in history from Willamette University and a J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.