Internet freedom Hangs in the Balance

02/10/2015 10:00

by Sen. Ben Sasse

On November 10th, 2014, President Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to re-classify the Internet as a public utility. He proposed dusting off a law that’s nearly 80 years old (and about unrelated technology) and using it to give the Federal Government power to police the Internet.  Here are just a few examples of what can happen when Government takes total control of the Internet.

“We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic,” Prime Minister of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey isn't alone. During the "Green Revolution" in 2009, Iran implemented a widespread crackdown on the Internet. China has censored information for years. And Russia made Facebook take down content that was critical of Putin last year.  I need your help to keep the Internet open and free.

I know many people do not love the big Internet providers (count me as one of them) and just want to make sure that consumers are not stuck with slow access speeds and bad service. That’s a good goal.  But the solution is not to get Government in this space with expanded powers to police the Internet. Internet freedom is just too precious to hand Washington new regulatory powers over the Internet without oversight.

You see, if President Obama gets his wish, instead of the “light touch” approach that has allowed the Internet to flourish for years, Government bureaucrats would be put in charge of a new heavy-handed regulatory scheme.

Worst of all, Americans do not fully understand the implications of how far this could go because it’s all happening so fast. Instead of Congress having a public debate out in the open where the American people can listen and Congress is held accountable, the Executive Branch is rushing to pre-empt Congress and jam this new regulation through while the American people are not really paying attention. (If this reminds you of Nancy Pelosi’s “We have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it” statement about ObamaCare a couple years ago, it should.)

Americans should be deeply concerned about the chilling effect a Government controlled Internet could have on speech. Recent actions taken by foreign governments should make every American nervous when thinking about a Government controlled Internet.  That’s because the Internet is not just a more efficient way of engaging in commerce; it’s the greatest threat to tyrannical Governments in the world today. Autocrats like Putin do not want a free and open Internet. They want a “small I” Internet that runs more like their own personal intranet that they can control. America must remain a global leader for a free and open Internet and continue to tell countries like Iran, Russia, and China “No” on regulating the Internet access of their people, and their right to free speech.

Both Republicans and Democrats agree that maintaining a free and open Internet is the goal. But more Government intervention will not help us reach that outcome. It will restrict the dynamism that has fueled the greatest revolution since Henry Ford invented the Model T, and choke political speech.

I believe this truly is a slippery slope scenario where years in the future, another Administration could use power over the Internet to censor speech and intimidate political opponents.  I know there will be those who try to dismiss this concern out of hand…But after the way our Government has operated over the last six years, does anyone really think we should just give Washington control over something as precious as the Internet?

Do we really want the same type of people who brought us the IRS scandal--where they targeted political opponents of the Administration--making decisions about political speech online?

Should the same type of people who were responsible for the utter failure of the Veterans Administration be in a decision-making position on the future of the Internet? Can the same group of “tech experts” responsible for the roll out of really be entrusted with maintaining transparency and access online?

It’s up to us to preserve the Internet for our kids and grand kids as the one of the greatest forces for freedom the world has ever known. A Government-controlled Internet is not the right choice.  The FCC votes on February 26th. They need to hear from you today.

Please, join me today in calling on the Obama Administration and the FCC to keep the Internet open and free.