Technology policy is not something that is immediately interesting to most people, yet it's worth taking a look at the story behind the FCC's recent announcement that it will be taking web network regulation into its own hands.
Writing at the Wall Street Journal today, John Fund takes a look at how a small group of outright socialists—by their own admission—teamed up with the same cadre of leftist foundations that launched an astroturf campaign—again by their own admission—in favor of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulation law.
Together, they managed to co-opt a federal agency to implement a large regulatory regime that is going to increase internet access costs for everyone in the hopes of preventing a problem which—by their own admission—doesn't really exist.
Fund's article is must-reading. Here's just a small excerpt:
The net neutrality vision for government regulation of the Internet began with the work of Robert McChesney, a University of Illinois communications professor who founded the liberal lobby Free Press in 2002. Mr. McChesney's agenda? "At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies," he told the website SocialistProject in 2009. "But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control."
A year earlier, Mr. McChesney wrote in the Marxist journal Monthly Review that "any serious effort to reform the media system would have to necessarily be part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist system itself." Mr. McChesney told me in an interview that some of his comments have been "taken out of context." He acknowledged that he is a socialist and said he was "hesitant to say I'm not a Marxist."
For a man with such radical views, Mr. McChesney and his Free Press group have had astonishing influence. Mr. Genachowski's press secretary at the FCC, Jen Howard, used to handle media relations at Free Press. The FCC's chief diversity officer, Mark Lloyd, co-authored a Free Press report calling for regulation of political talk radio.
Free Press has been funded by a network of liberal foundations that helped the lobby invent the purported problem that net neutrality is supposed to solve. They then fashioned a political strategy similar to the one employed by activists behind the political speech restrictions of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill. The methods of that earlier campaign were discussed in 2004 by Sean Treglia, a former program officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts, during a talk at the University of Southern California. Far from being the efforts of genuine grass-roots activists, Mr. Treglia noted, the campaign-finance reform lobby was controlled and funded by foundations like Pew. [...]
After McCain-Feingold passed, several of the foundations involved in the effort began shifting their attention to "media reform"—a movement to impose government controls on Internet companies somewhat related to the long-defunct "Fairness Doctrine" that used to regulate TV and radio companies. In a 2005 interview with the progressive website Buzzflash, Mr. McChesney said that campaign-finance reform advocate Josh Silver approached him and "said let's get to work on getting popular involvement in media policy making." Together the two founded Free Press.
Naturally, the success of two genuine astroturf campaigns by the left has provoked little to no interest among most of America's elite press, most of whom persistently label the Orwellian-named Free Press as a "consumer advocate group." Instead, most journalists are interested in investigating the eeevil Koch brothers.