Opinion

Dorgan wants an Internet takeover

Last week, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) gave a keynote speech before a crowd of Internet regulation supporters and stated some amusing falsehoods about the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) attempt to take over the Internet. At a summit held by the organization Free Press, Sen. Dorgan claimed that the government developed the Internet, established the rules underpinning net neutrality when it created the Internet, and that the attempt by the FCC to takeover the management of networks is not a government takeover.

Sen. Dorgan is correct that the very first data networks were developed with the Department of Defense and various universities, but the Internet as we know it was not developed by the government. Private businesses and individuals build the data networks, write the software, own the servers and computers, and develop the content and websites. All of these components make up the Internet ecosystem and none of them (sans some websites and military networks) were created or are owned by the government.

Private companies and individuals have spent hundreds of billions of dollars developing our nation’s Internet, including over $60 billion last year alone just to build the networks. The so-called net neutrality regulations that Sen. Dorgan wants would regulate how these data networks are managed. Under them, the FCC would establish rules on “reasonable” network management practices—where the FCC would define “reasonable.”

Sen. Dorgan dismissed the argument by the free-market community that this is a government takeover, claiming “nothing could be further from the truth.” But that’s like saying the government isn’t taking over the auto industry, just telling car companies what models they can and can’t make. That they aren’t taking over health care, just telling insurance companies what plans they can and can’t offer.

Net neutrality is a government takeover. The free-market community isn’t arguing that under these specific regulations the government will now own the industry—though that is the end goal of many net neutrality proponents like Free Press. Opponents argue that under the FCC’s net neutrality regulations the industry becomes the near absolute pawn of the government. When management practices are approved or denied by a government bureaucrat, it is a certainly a government takeover. And when the first of such regulatory steps tap into the very spine of the Internet—the networks on which everything else depends—that opens the door for further regulation and government intrusion.