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January 22, 2004

FBI & ACLU: Together v. Internet Deregulation

This is a story of how the Bush regime's deregulatory impulses are being undercut by its anti-terrorism police state tactics.

And the legal rules of the Internet are in the crossfire. In 2002, Bush's F.C.C. voted to place high-speed Internet cable services under a looser regulatory regime than the phone system.

The idea was to encourage the rollout of broadband services across the country by eliminating some of the regulations that were deterring companies from investing in broadband expansions.

But by classifying such cable systems as not being in the same legal category as the phone system, the F.C.C. undercut the ability of law enforcement officials to get wiretap and other similar access to those networks.

So the ACLU should be celebrating, right, with its civil liberites folks giving a big hurrah? Except the ACLU also cares about free speech and diversity in our media:

In a strange-bedfellows twist, officials from the F.B.I. and other agencies have found themselves the unlikely allies of groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which have also argued that the new Internet services offered by cable companies should be under a regulatory regime like the phone system but for different reasons. The A.C.L.U. prefers that approach because it would prohibit cable companies from discriminating against Internet service providers, and as such would assure a greater diversity of voices.
Okay, and for the personal irony of the situation, I'm on the other side of the fence from the ACLU on this one, lined up with the "deregulators", in supporting giving the broadband cable folks the ability to exclude competitor ISPs from their system, a point I made in a very early post on this blog-- following up on an article I had written called A Broadband Mandate?

Now, I'm no advocate of Internet deregulation in the abstract-- heck I wrote a whole book largely trashing the 90s approach to competition around Internet deployment, but I think the ACLU position promoting "competition" around ISP access to broadband is just one more bad market-oriented approach to promoting diversity.

If I had my druthers, the best Internet regulation would be simple-- mandate that those who control the wires into the home cannot own the content that is being sold over the wires. Cable and telephone companies would be barred from discriminating based on that content, but otherwise would have monopoly control of those wires-- with price controls on the cost for consumers as needed.

Which all goes to show that when talking about the Internet, simple dichotomies of "regulation" and "deregulation" get really complicated, especially when the ACLU gets into bed with the FBI promoting market competition for ISPs against a libertarian F.C.C. which wants to give monopoly control to cable companies.

Posted by Nathan at January 22, 2004 05:23 AM