There has been a lot of debate about how to protect Internet Freedom.
Today, Senator Ted Cruz has an op-ed in the Washington Post on the subject, which starts out with an eloquent and spot-on assessment of what we are trying to protect:
Never before has it been so easy to take an idea and turn it into a business. With a simple Internet connection, some ingenuity and a lot of hard work, anyone today can create a new service or app or start selling products nationwide.
In the past, such a person would have to know the right people and be able to raise substantial start-up capital to get a brick-and-mortar store running. Not anymore. The Internet is the great equalizer when it comes to jobs and opportunity. We should make a commitment, right now, to keep it that way.
This is absolutely what this is about. The ability for any person — a teenager in Des Moines, a grandmother in Brazil, or a shop owner in Norway — to get online and start writing, selling, streaming, performing, and transacting — with pretty much anyone in the world (outside of China).
This is the magic of the internet. Right there.
By essentially a happy accident, we have created the single most open and vibrant marketplace in the history of the world. The most democratizing, power-generating, market-making thing ever. And the core reason behind this: on the internet you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to get started.
And that “anyone” is not just the government — as we’re used to asking the government for permission for lots of things, like drivers licenses, business licenses, etc.
In fact, more importantly — “anyone” means the carriers whose lines you need to cross to reach an audience on the internet. A blogger doesn’t have to ask Comcast’s or Verizon’s permission to reach its subscribers. Neither does a small merchant, or an indie musician or filmmaker.
Contrast that with how cable TV works — in order to reach an audience, you need to cut a deal with a channel, who in turn needs to cut a deal with a carrier, before you can reach anyone. It is completely out of the realm of possibility for me to create my own TV station in the Cable model. In the Internet model, I can do that in 5 minutes without asking anyone’s permission.
What we don’t want is an internet that works like Cable TV.
So I agree with Ted Cruz — his description of the internet is exactly the one I believe in and want to fight for.
But where I think he and many others miss the point is that Internet Freedom is not just about freedom from government intervention, it’s freedom from powerful gatekeepers, who would prefer to make the internet look like Cable TV, controlling and restricting the mega marketplace we’ve been so lucky to take part in.
Let’s not let that happen.
p.s., I would encourage any conservatives pondering this issue to read James J. Heaney’s powerful and in-depth case for “Why Free Marketeers Want to Regulate the Internet“