You pull up to the Chicago Hilton off of Balboa Drive after a grueling 12-hour drive. All you can think about is getting something to eat and some sleep. You go to the check-in desk and ask about the rates for a two-room suite and are quoted a rate of $250 per night. Upon hearing the quote you become indignant because you believe that you should pay a one-star hotel room rate for a five-star hotel room.
The check-in clerk explains that given the amenities of the room, the space it has, and the view, a rate of $250 is the market rate. You believe, however, that you have a right to the room at the lower rate because, after all, your need to sleep is just as important as Paris Hilton’s.
This is basically the argument that proponents of net neutrality have been raising. Content providers have a civil right to have their traffic treated equally by broadband access providers. A bit is a bit is a bit, they would argue.
Shouting the phrase “civil rights” from the rafters as a rallying cry is designed to invoke fear and guilt versus reason. Shouting civil rights is like giving libation with the expectations that upon channeling the spirits of Martin and Malcolm, anything in opposition to net neutrality will attract an evil taint and be thrown in the back of the bus where it belongs.
I never met Dr. King, but from what I know of him, he would have wanted us to approach this debate with reserve and reason. Reason requires that we properly clarify and define civil rights less we prefer stoke the flames of the Watts riots all over again.
The purpose of civil rights laws is to deter government and its agents from using their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights. Last time I checked, broadband access providers were not agents of the federal government. Broadband access providers, as much as the Federal Communications Commission would like them to be, are not even common carriers, like hotels or trains are. Congress wanted to provide for civil remedies where state action resulted in the violation of constitutional rights.
So, if government, federal, state, or local, ordered or allowed discrimination by broadband access providers against content providers, that would be a civil rights violation. If government provided broadband service directly but only allowed certain content providers to use it, then you would have a civil rights violation. If broadband access providers were common carriers (which they are not) and denied you access to service, then you would have a civil rights violation. None of these scenarios exist.
Envisioning a world that could be under universal broadband access does not create a constitutional right. Net neutrality, however, may be the very source of civil rights violations that net neutrality proponents allegedly want us to avoid.
Establishing a rule where a broadband access provider is required to disclose network management information to the public, I would argue, violates that provider’s free speech. Corporations, much to the chagrin of the far left, do have the limited constitutional right of free speech. It would be ironic that we would trample on the existing constitutional rights of broadband access providers in order to protect a civil right for content providers that does not exist.
I did pretty well in philosophy but even that question of existentialism is a bit much for me to wrap my head around.
Dr. King preached a message of tolerance and equality but even he, after a long night on the road marching for our civil rights, would have found it a bit unconscionable to pay one-star room rates for a five-star room.