There was a time, not so long ago, when the term "Internet Freedom" actually meant what it implied: a cyberspace free from over-zealous legislators and bureaucrats. For a few brief, beautiful moments in the Internet's history (from the mid-90s to the early 2000s), a majority of Netizens and cyber-policy pundits alike all rallied around the flag of "Hands Off the Net!" From censorship efforts, encryption controls, online taxes, privacy mandates and infrastructure regulations, there was a general consensus as to how much authority government should have over cyber life and our cyber liberties. Simply put, there was a "presumption of liberty" in all cyber matters.
Those days are now gone; the presumption of online liberty is giving way to a presumption of regulation. A massive assault on real Internet freedom has been gathering steam for years and has finally come to a head. Ironically, victory for those who carry the banner of "Internet Freedom" would mean nothing less than the death of that freedom.
We refer to the gradual but certain movement to have the federal government impose "neutrality" regulation for all Internet actors and activities -- and in particular, to Monday's announcement by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski that new rules will be floated shortly. "But wait," you say, "You're mixing things up! All that's being talked about right now is the application of 'simple net neutrality,' regulations for the infrastructure layer of the net." You might even claim regulations are not really regulation but pro-freedom principles to keep the net "free and open."
Such thinking is terribly short-sighted. Here is the reality: Because of the steps being taken in Washington right now, real Internet Freedom -- for all Internet operators and consumers, and for economic and speech rights alike -- is about to start dying a death by a thousand regulatory cuts. Policymakers and activists groups are ramping up the FCC's regulatory machine for a massive assault on cyber liberty. This assault rests on the supposed superiority of common carriage regulation and "public interest" mandates over not just free markets and property rights, but over general individual liberties and freedom of speech in particular. Stated differently, cyber collectivism is back in vogue -- and it's coming very soon to a computer near you!