McSlarrow: Net neutrality would hinder, not help, free speech

Net neutrality supporters say the government has to ensure Internet service providers can't impede access to content on the Web. That would be a violation of consumers' First Amendment rights.

Not so, says Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. In fact, he says that argument has turned First Amendment principals "upside down."

"By its plain terms and history, the First Amendment is a limitation on government power, not an empowerment of government," said McSlarrow while speaking at a luncheon held today by the Media Institute. "Making these arguments is, ironically, almost proof that First Amendment rights are being implicated...let’s not forget that the First Amendment is framed as a shield for citizens, not a sword for government."

He reiterated that all Internet service providers say they have no desire to block customers from reaching lawful content and applications. Doing so would be competitive suicide. If customers found one provider was hindering their access to content they want, they will simply go to another provider. He said imposing net neutrality regulations could actually infringe First Amendment rights by not allowing Internet operators to provide "managed" or premium services to consumers.

"ISPs can’t prioritize all content, due to the physical limitations of their systems.  And it may be entirely too costly--as well as unnecessary and inefficient--to offer the same quality of service that a video game service requires to every single content provider.  And so the effect of such a rule would be simply to prevent the offering of services consumers might want that require such enhancements.  Does the First Amendment really allow the government to prohibit a content or applications provider from paying to acquire the means to distribute its content in the form or manner it wishes?  Such a rule would ultimately decrease the overall amount of speech on the Internet, thus harming, not helping, First Amendment interests."

"I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than this:  Internet Service Providers do not threaten free speech; their business is to enable speech and they are part of an ecosystem that represents perhaps the greatest engine for promotion of democracy and free expression in history."