The long, heated and occasionally bizarre controversy over net neutrality has been a battle over the kinds of liberties America was founded upon. It’s a legal battle about the First Amendment, about forces trying to fix the market, and not letting the big guy tie you down. These core ideals aren’t just fundamental pillars of the pro-Net Neutrality movement-
-they’re also the fundamental pillars the anti-Net Neutrality movement argues for.
Really, all it needs is Comcast CEO Brian Roberts telling pro-Net Neutrality protestors, “We’re not so different, you and I.” Saying the two opposed sides fight for the same reasons would be misinformed, but there’s a decent amount of shared rhetoric. For example, one (of many) reasons to celebrate net neutrality is how it maintains freedom of discourse. Allowing internet service providers to discriminate between different organizations would allow them to prioritize which kinds of speech they prefer, allowing such First Amendment infringements as when Verizon censored pro-choice group Naral’s text messages. Without net neutrality, Comcast could have easily stopped 123 thousand Reddit users from associating Comcast with a picture of a Nazi swastika two years ago, putting the hate symbol at the top of image search results for Comcast where it remains today.
However, Verizon has tried to use the First Amendment against Net Neutrality. Their argument essentially boils down to comparing being forced to host content they dislike to compelled speech, which goes against the First Amendment. There are several notable issues with this argument – Does this mean content internet service providers do not take down is their speech? If so, does this mean ISPs are effectively in agreement with [or at least tolerating] everything their users can connect to? Does this mean that ISPs are responsible for monitoring all internet traffic, lest they are associated with unsavory content? Because of these arguments, the idea of the First Amendment protecting ISPs from Net Neutrality is largely debunked. However, the important point is not whether their argument worked or not – it’s that this was a cornerstone argument of Verizon’s.
Ultimately, both sides of the Net Neutrality debate are fighting for their freedom. The pro- side is fighting for their freedom of expression, and the anti- side is fighting for their freedom to spend their money as they wish. It’s one incident in a long, twisted history of oversized corporations looking to push the bounds on laissez-faire as far as they can take it, and Verizon’s claims that those freedoms are tantamount to First Amendment rights demonstrate how divorced they have become from the general population.