Tech companies spend trillions of dollars to build and maintain, expand and improve their Internet networks.
So it is more than a mite disturbing when a democrat former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman dismisses the notion that these companies exclusively own these networks and that their First Amendment rights are flexible.
President Bill Clinton’s first-term Chairman Reed Hundt did exactly that last Wednesday, at an event commissioned and put together by Democrat Congressmen Henry Waxman, Anna Eshoo, Ed Markey, Michael Doyle and Doris Matsui. Chairman Hundt co-hosted the event with anti-First Amendment amicus-filing attorney David Goldberg:
(An exhaustive Web search netted no video or transcript of the event.)
Lawsuits seeking to overturn President Barack Obama’s Network Neutrality, illegally imposed in December 2010, argue in part that it violates their First Amendment rights. The Left is seeking to deliver a rebuttal to this assertion.
Chairman Hundt was asked (by yours truly) something along the lines of:
Can the government come into the home or business for which you paid and built and tell you what you can and cannot say?
Of course the answer was and is No. So I followed up with:
How then are wireless networks – for which these companies paid and built – so fundamentally different? How are they not afforded the same First Amendment protections as you – and everyone else?
Chairman Hundt and Doctor of Jurisprudence Goldberg combined to give a shambling, rambling, totally unsatisfactory answer, which lead to a follow up – worded similarly to mine – from elsewhere in the room. To which Chairman Hundt responded with something like:
These companies lease the spectrum on which they build these networks. So the notion that they own them outright is simply not true. These are publicly-privately owned properties.
Which is troubling from private property, free market and free speech perspectives.
Cellular companies have, since 1996, invested in these networks to the tune of $1.2 trillion, after first paying the federal government billions more for the spectrum rights to do so. It’s a little disrupting and disconcerting to hear that they may not actually own them.
Furthermore, they are subject to the capricious whims of government officials who may at any time exert government’s alleged ownership rights – against and at the expense of their property.
This is an egregious Fifth Amendment violation.
No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
And thus a creator of enormous economic uncertainty. If you may not be able to hold on to your property, why continue to invest therein? The results:
And, again, Chairman Hundt suggested that these networks are public-private ownership stakes – and that the “public” portion allows the government to limit free speech.
To which I responded:
So the government can limit free speech in public arenas and endeavors?
Which caused Chairman Hundt to look like he had just swallowed a lizard – and retract his latter assertion. This Leftist notion that the First Amendment does not apply to the Internet – or anyone or anything else – is not novel.
And if you can’t silence them outright – tax them into oblivion.
Reality, common sense – and the courts – seem to disagree.
Reality, common sense and the courts seem also to disagree with the Left’s notion that the government has the authority to impose Net Neutrality. Circa 2010:
Panel of three federal judges unanimously tosses out Federal Communications Commission’s Net Neutrality sanctions…saying the agency has no legal authority to regulate….
But, as usual, Leftists never allow facts to get in the way of a good beating.