Alleged Libertarians Oppose Net Neutrality, Get First Amendment Wrong

Senior Contributor
07.25.12 6 Comments

You’d think the kind of people who claim to be dedicated to individual liberty and freedom would be all for net neutrality, but apparently it’s Communist or something. A bunch of notable libertarian organizations have filed an amicus brief in Verizon Vs. The Federal Communications Commission for Verizon, stating that net neutrality violates the First and Fifth Amendment. Ron Swanson would not approve, we think.

The crux of their argument is that by not allowing huge corporations to decide who gets to say what at what speed that the government is forcing these corporations to “speak.” Remember, corporations are people!

The problem with this argument is that the lawyers filing it seem to have forgotten how Constitutional rights, uh, actually work.

Here’s the meat of the failure:

In the brief, TechFreedom, The Competitive Enterprise Institute, The Free State Foundation, and the Cato Institute argue that the last year’s FCC net neutrality order Preserving the Open Internet, which took effect in November 2011, violates the First and Fifth Amendments, and that the FCC lacks jurisdictional authority to implement such a rule.

Specifically, the groups say that compelling private companies to “speak,” by requiring them to carry all traffic across their networks, instead of allowing them to discriminate as they see fit, violates the principle of freedom of speech.

First of all, the potential for gross violations of the First Amendment in law and spirit both are huge in a world where a small handful of for-profit companies get to decide who gets to hear what at what speed.

Secondly, it’s hard to argue that making networks privilege all traffic equally is somehow infringing the right to free speech these corporations have (and it should be noted, deserve): it’s not like ISPs are unable to buy advertising, lobby Congress, or send anybody email under the rules. Hell, under these rules they can blatantly lie about how their streaming video comes from some magic private Internet and not immediately get away with it.

As for the Fifth Amendment argument, yeah, a private person streaming private information over a private network is totally the same as the government just grabbing that pipe. Totally, brah.

It’s a little disappointing the Cato Institute is involved in this… especially since one of their most popular papers on net neutrality was written by somebody who later reversed his stance. Come on, guys. Eventually you’ve got to admit that the free market doesn’t solve absolutely everything.


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