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Beckmann: Hands off my Internet

Frank Beckmann
Special to The Detroit News

We've all been warned about fearing the words, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

Now we have real reason for taking that bromide to heart with the decision by the Federal Communications Commission to place the federal government in control of the Internet.

The FCC has been stymied by court rulings in the past in its efforts to place limits on the industry that makes up our connection to the world, and there's the promise of more legal wrangling ahead.

But in the meantime, the regulatory agency's party line 3-2 vote to grab control of the Internet by making it subject to utility industry-like oversight threatens some of the greatest freedoms we enjoy: speech and commerce.

There are some pretty basic problems with this effort that the FCC calls "Net neutrality," a misnomer for an initiative that really means "Net control."

Proponents, backed by a public relations push funded to the tune of nearly $200 million by the Ford Foundation and George Soros' Open Society Institute, have been pushing for more government control of the Internet and all media.

It wasn't that long ago that the FCC wanted to place watchers in all newsrooms, purportedly to learn more about news gathering organizations. This came with the implied threat of controlling information that is disseminated to the public.

Only a public outcry put that idea on the backburner, where it should forever be left to curdle.

Let's remember that Robert McChesney, co-founder of the misnamed group "Free Press," advocated in 2010 for the federal government to spend $30 billion per year to subsidize (and by extension, control) the media in our country.

As McChesney previously wrote in the magazine Monthly Review: "Our job is to make media reform part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism."

But there's been no public outcry about this FCC move because these advocates of Net neutrality learned their lesson.

Led by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC hid details of its "Net neutrality" plan.

The 300-plus-page proposal was not released for public review before the FCC vote, and Wheeler refused to appear before Congress to answer questions about it.

While Wheeler claimed that months worth of input had been received during the public review period, logic tells us it's impossible to gain any credible suggestions for a document that no one outside of the FCC staff has ever seen.

One Republican member of the panel, Ajit Pai, said on my WJR Radio Show that the FCC move was a direct threat to the freedoms enjoyed on the Internet, which is doing just fine as a free market system with service providers charging customers for the bandwidth they use.

Net neutrality advocates claim the new rules will make service speeds universal for everyone, arguing that it's somehow unfair for these providers to charge higher rates for advanced and faster service.

But simple economics has taught us that these American free market principles have always provided our country with the best options.

If you want a bigger house, you're going to pay more. Want more options on your car, it's going to cost you more.

The Internet is no different.

It's a business, a thriving enterprise, that has served the public well in the free market whether we use it for communication with family, to exchange ideas with acquaintances, to engage in political debate, to play games, or to shop.

The last thing we need is Big Brother looking over our shoulder in the free world of Web activity, threatening to exercise — through its new control under the FCC — the censorship seen in authoritarian countries like China and Russia.

The FCC has tackled a solution in search of a problem.

And Americans have every right to be alarmed by this latest heavy-handed grab for power, especially since it was crafted by people unwilling to tell us exactly what we're getting.

Frank Beckmann is host of "The Frank Beckmann Show" on WJR-AM (760) from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday.