A lot has happened in CyberSpace since the FCC last addressed the questions of Net Neutrality and it's authority to regulate the Internet. It will do so again today. For month's now, the advocates of Net Neutrality have been demanding that the FCC assert unprecedented authority over the Internet for the purpose of protecting Net Neutrality. Now they will be shocked, shocked to find that the FCC has seized unprecedented authority over the Internet and then did little to insure Net Neutrality. While FCC Chairman Genachowski has kept the exact wording of the proposed new Internet regulations from the public, what has been leaked sounds as though they offer even less protection for network neutrality than the legislative proposal Google/Verizon made in August. However that is besides the point. It is my thesis that the current U.S. debate about the exact nature of FCC regulations around Net Neutrality misses and even obscures the much more fundamental question of jurisdiction: What right does the U.S. government, or any government for that matter, have to regulate the Internet? Another important question: Where does the main threat to Internet freedom come from?
While the commercial interests of corporations do pose a long term threat to our Internet freedoms, including the principle that all data is treated the same without regards to source or destination, i.e., network neutrality, those companies are neither the most powerful nor the most immediate threat to our Internet freedom. That is what the FCC lobbyists that have turned Net Neutrality into a fetish, would have you believe. That is because in a period in which increasing economic hardship will necessarily leads to greater social upheaval and growing political unrest, the greatest and most immediate threat to our freedom on the Internet comes from the authoritarian state. At a time when we are being lied to like never before, the free Internet allows us to get at the truth. At a time when we are being controlled as never before, the free Internet allows us to organize a collective resistance. This is why the government needs to bring the Internet under its control now.
Most likely the word "WikiLeaks" won't even be spoken at the FCC hearings today, but you can be sure that it will the represented by an antonym in any regulations proposed by the FCC. That antonym is "lawful" as in these laws give the Federal government the power to protect "lawful" Internet content which also means giving it the power to ban 'un-lawful' Internet content. The problem arises because it is the same government that determined that the cold blooded mass-murder of a group of civilians in Baghdad, including 2 Reuters journalists, as revealed in the WikiLeaks released video "Collateral Murder", was a lawful killing. That same government will determine that the WikiLeaks exposure of it's crimes constitutes 'un-lawful' Internet content and will ban it as they are already trying to do now outside the law.
The U.S. government has been demanding and taking greater and greater control over the World Wide Web in 2010. In April the Federal Court of Appeals shot down an attempt by the FCC to asserted broad powers to control the Internet in the name of protecting Net Neutrality. Internet freedom advocates cheered when they did that. EFF called the Net Neutrality rules the FCC's Trojan Horse and called it's claim of '"Title I ancillary authority'... both discredited and unbounded." Last June, in a move that went under almost everybody's radar, the DoJ seized 8 domains for pirating first run movies. In July the DoJ pushed to expand warantless access to Internet records. In August, big lobbying campaigns were carried out asking the FCC to assert its power to rule the Internet in response to the Google/Verizon initiative. This fall, over the strong objections of the engineers that created the Internet, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the COICA bill, otherwise known as the Internet Blacklist Bill. This bill would allow the DoJ to create lists of websites that could be blacklisted. Last month, after Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) blocked the bill's further progress this year, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed the powers by executive fiat that they had been unable to legislate, and seized 82 domains on the grounds that they were involved in piracy and selling counterfeit goods and while it would now appear that some of the domains seize were innocent, what made these domain seizures so extraordinary, was that the U.S. government believed it should have that power at all. A week later, a desperate campaign was launched to get WikiLeaks off the Internet, and while this campaign used both legal and extra-legal methods, it clearly had the backing of the Federal government. Fortunately for the world, this assault on WikiLeaks brought forth a strong response from the hacker community, WikiLeaks stayed up, Mastercard went down and a new form of the old struggle was born on the Internet.
The Internet has always operated as an international civilian concern run in the general interest of humanity without fear or favor for any particular political, economic or national concerns. That Internet operating principle is at the core of network neutrality. Before the U.S. started seizing domains, the worst that the grossest violators of that principle could do was to block domains they didn't like to their own people. They couldn't deny those websites to the world. No national government could do that because to do that they would have to control the single root name server system that ran the Internet, and that has not been under the control of any government, it has been run by ICANN, an international NGO. If you think ICANN should take a domain away from it's current owner, they have a well developed domain dispute resolution policy and you can file a complaint here. The Chinese didn't even try and neither did the U.S. government.
And there's the rub. This is where the U.S. government has had an unfair advantage as compared to the Chinese government or the House of Saud. For historical reasons, the root name servers are located here in the U.S. The Internet first came alive in 1969 as a network between 3 U.S. based computers. In the past, ICANN has always let the contract to run the root name servers to American companies, but it has always been the World Wide Web. The fact that some of the vital Internet infrastructure is located in the U.S. doesn't give us ownership of the Internet, any more than the location of the UN headquarters in New York gives us ownership of that international organization. It's location here is a trust. It is a trust which the Obama administration violated by serving court orders on the companies that work for ICANN.
This particular U.S. advantage is likely to be short lived. Just as I predicted in my dairy months ago, as the 87 Internet engineers predicted in their letter, and as many other knowledgeable observers have predicted, alternatives to the unified, but U.S. based, name server system are already being planned and some websites are taking steps now to end their dependence on what is looking more and more like a U.S. government controlled DNS system. This is the disaster that is facing the Internet now. This is what is ending the Internet as we have known it now. It is the attempt by the U.S. government to take unprecedented control of the Internet that is the greatest threat of our freedom in that media.
Those that think the main issue for the Internet now is "Net Neutrality" have turned the phrase into a fetish. They have a very narrow and limited view of how the Internet works and the freedom and domination issues it is really facing.
Those that call for the FCC to declare it has authority to regulate the World Wide Web under the Communications Act of 1934 are feeding our Internet freedoms to the jackals.
Here is a recap of my other DKos dairies on this subject:
WikiLeaks Revelations Spur UN & US Internet Takeover Plans!
BREAKING - Digital Sit-Ins: The Internet Strikes Back!
Cyber War Report: New Front Opens Against Internet Coup d'état
Operation PayBack: 1st Cyber War Begins over WikiLeaks
The Internet Takeover: Why Google is Next
BREAKING: Goodbye Internet Freedom as Wikileaks is Taken Down
BREAKING NEWS: Obama Admin Takes Control of Internet Domains!
Things Even Keith Olbermann Won't Cover - UPDATE: VICTORY!!!
Stop Internet Blacklist Bill Now!
Sweet Victory on Internet Censorship: Senate Backs Off!
Internet Engineers tell the Senate to Back Off!
Why is Net Neutrality advocate Free Press MIA?
Obama's Internet Coup d'état
Julian Assange on Threat to Internet Freedom
FCC Net Neutrality's Trojan Horse
Free Press: Country Codes for the Internet?
The Mountain comes to Mohammad
Keith Olbermann's Deception
Court rules -> Google Must Be Evil & Maximize Profits
EFF on the Google\Verizon Net Neutrality Proposal
Google-Verizon: What is the Free Press Agenda?
End of the Internet As We Know It!
Free Press would make this Illegal!
Google Verizon Announce Terms of Deal