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Fox News' Distorted, GOP-Weighted Discussion Of Net Neutrality Rules

Reported by Ellen - December 22, 2010 -

The Hannity show may be part of what Fox News likes to consider its "editorial page" but that shouldn't give it license to distort concerns about the net neutrality rules just adopted by the FCC. With conservative Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn as the sole guest, substitute host Mark Steyn was obviously more interested in promoting her "government takeover" polemic against the Obama administration than in informing the "we report, you decide" network's audience. He didn't bother to discuss, much less offer a platform for, those who feel the rules did not go far enough to protect consumers.

If you missed the segment on the air, you could get the gist of the meme just by looking at FoxNews.com's title for it, Big Brother Strikes Again?

Steyn, in his scripted introduction, acknowledged that the rules mean “companies could start charging customers based on the amount of bandwidth they use and choosing which websites will run faster than others.” Steyn never mentioned that there are even more concerns about wireless devices.

Steyn read an excerpt from President Obama’s statement, “Today’s decision will help preserve the free and open nature of the internet while encouraging innovation, protecting consumer choice, and defending free speech.” Then Steyn added, “But critics argue just the opposite.” He played a clip of GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that the Obama administration, “which has already nationalized health care, the auto industry, insurance companies, banks and student loans will move forward with what could be the first step in controlling how Americans use the internet… (I wonder) if this is a Trojan horse for further meddling by the government.”

Steyn asked, “So why is Big Brother getting involved in the first place?”

He brought on Blackburn, not to answer the question but to add to McConnell’s perspective. Let’s see… that’s Steyn and Blackburn in person plus a clip of McConnell vs. a clip of Obama’s FCC appointee Julius Genachowski and a quote from Obama. Just another example of Fox News’ notion of “balance.”

Rather than focus on what was actually in the rules, Blackburn immediately dashed to echo McConnell’s “government takeover” meme. “The FCC is usurping the power of Congress.” She accused them of “block(ing) the internet service providers, ISP’s, from making decisions about how to manage their networks. Basically, it is a taking, if you will… a step toward nationalizing the internet.”

Steyn quickly agreed, saying that the internet is “one of the few things around” that works because there has been no government interference. He also agreed that “it’s a usurpation… Three guys that nobody’s ever heard of have basically just decided to put the worldwide web under federal regulation… This is microregulatory tyranny, isn’t it?”

From there, Blackburn discussed planned GOP efforts to block the regulation. Then Steyn “asked” if the FCC isn’t “just a microcosm of what’s gone wrong with our systems of government over the last three-quarters of a century?”

Blackburn agreed, of course, and dubiously claimed that the FCC “wants to be the gatekeeper for all new applications.” She also complained that after the internet companies have spent so much money building and maintaining the internet, they should not be subject to government interference.

But while Steyn was busy agreeing with Blackburn and her anti-Obama/anti-government agenda, he completely ignored other objections to the legislation.

For example, Free Press Managing Director Craig Aaron said,

The new rules are riddled with loopholes, evidence that the chairman sought approval from AT&T instead of listening to the millions of Americans who asked for real Net Neutrality. These rules don't do enough to stop the phone and cable companies from dividing the Internet into fast and slow lanes, and they fail to protect wireless users from discrimination. No longer can you get to the same Internet via your mobile device as you can via your laptop. The rules pave the way for AT&T to block your access to third-party applications and to require you to use its own preferred applications.

As The New York Times wrote:

Notably, the rules are watered down for wireless Net providers like AT&T and Verizon, which would be prohibited from blocking Web sites, but not from blocking applications or services unless those applications directly compete with providers’ voice and video products, like Skype.

…Citing the wireless proposal, Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, said over the weekend that the F.C.C. was effectively allowing discrimination on the mobile Net, a fast-growing sector.

“Maybe you like Google Maps. Well, tough,” Mr. Franken said on Saturday on the Senate floor. “If the F.C.C. passes this weak rule, Verizon will be able to cut off access to the Google Maps app on your phone and force you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it is not as good. And even if they charge money, when Google Maps is free.”

He added, “If corporations are allowed to prioritize content on the Internet, or they are allowed to block applications you access on your iPhone, there is nothing to prevent those same corporations from censoring political speech.”