Whence net neutrality?

John Fund, at the Wall Street Journal, takes a look at the organizations that are pushing for net neutrality. Amazingly, an actual communist plot is involved:

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 joined with other leftist organizations and got funding from the usual sources (Soros, Pew, the Ford and MacArthur foundations, etc.). Their rhetorical tack is to call to protect the internet, not to impose government control on it. That strategy was the result of polling:

In 2009, Free Press commissioned a poll, released by the Harmony Institute, on net neutrality. Harmony reported that “more than 50% of the public argued that, as a private resource, the Internet should not be regulated by the federal government.” The poll went on to say that since “currently the public likes the way the Internet works . . . messaging should target supporters by asking them to act vigilantly” to prevent a “centrally controlled Internet.”

And, of course, there’s always the fake research:

To that end, Free Press and other groups helped manufacture “research” on net neutrality. In 2009, for example, the FCC commissioned Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society to conduct an “independent review of existing information” for the agency in order to “lay the foundation for enlightened, data-driven decision making.”

Considering how openly activist the Berkman Center has been on these issues, it was an odd decision for the FCC to delegate its broadband research to this outfit. Unless, of course, the FCC already knew the answer it wanted to get.

The Berkman Center’s FCC- commissioned report, “Next Generation Connectivity,” wound up being funded in large part by the Ford and MacArthur foundations. So some of the same foundations that have spent years funding net neutrality advocacy research ended up funding the FCC-commissioned study that evaluated net neutrality research.

The FCC’s “National Broadband Plan,” released last spring, included only five citations of respected think tanks such as the International Technology and Innovation Foundation or the Brookings Institution. But the report cited research from liberal groups such as Free Press, Public Knowledge, Pew and the New America Foundation more than 50 times.

(Previous post.)

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