This morning I read through an Engadget article praising the FCC for boldly striking down a Tennessee law that bans municipally run internet services. Engadget, a tech site I love in part because of its typically apolitical viewpoints (unlike another tech site I finally gave up reading), has forgotten themselves with Net Neutrality. They’ve gotten so caught up in the common tech world belief that Net Neutrality is the Internet’s Messiah that they haven’t considered any of the potential downsides to handing the internet keys to an unelected body.

Like I’ve said before, I don’t think the FCC is going to turn the internet into a digital version of Mad Max, so I typically just shake my head at their one-sided viewpoints and move on to more interesting things on their site, like Smart Cookie Jars.

This article, though, got me riled up right from the start. Let me quote the intro exactly:

By re-classifying broadband internet as a utility, the FCC has effectively declared that it’s a right, nay a necessity, for every American.

Um, no. That’s not what the FCC did at all. Even if they did, declaring things doesn’t make it so.

The writer of this article and the comment section seem hellbent on being on the side of the internet angels, but the issue is a bit more complicated than the “corporations are evil” refrain that’s being regurgitated like a bad piece of meat. For sake of argument, let’s flesh out the situation.

One unelected monopoly (the FCC) is telling an elected monopoly (TN legislature, other state governments) what they can and can’t do in the regulation of semi-geographic monopolies (internet service providers). Personally, I think the state has a bad policy (part of why I don’t live there), but I’m not arrogant enough to believe that five people in DC who have probably never even stepped foot in TN know better what’s good for people in Tennessee than people actually living in the state of Tennessee.

Look, there is a reason to prevent city municipalities from running internet services. It starts with the fact that the internet ISN’T a right. A right, by definition, is something that you inherently have, something that can only be taken away from you, not given. Freedom of Speech is something I have from birth unless my government takes it away. The Right to Be Wrong is something I have unless I’m not allowed any choice. Considering that the internet was created the day before yesterday, it clearly does NOT fall into the “rights” bucket.

So let’s say the mayor of Smalltown, TN, decides internet is good for everyone in their city. During their term, they sign contracts to get a municipal internet rolling, assured that the revenues collected will cover the huge initial outlays the city has to cover, likely with huge amounts of debt. If the service is a success, great. But what if it, like so many other large scale projects initiated by the government, goes over budget, or even fails? The citizens of Smalltown, TN, would be on the hook for massive amounts of debt, maybe in exchange for nothing. It’d be bad enough if the people of Smalltown voted in the mayor on the platform for municipal internet, but what if they just took it on themselves after they got elected?

Or as Ben Wyatt would say, “It’s Ice Town all over again.”

What the Legislature of the State of Tennessee has decided is that the cities don’t have the right to beholden their citizens to these potentially failed ventures when private companies are willing to bear the burden of potential failure. The Feds are saying that TN has no right to say what its citizens can do.

Again, I totally disagree with the state of Tennessee. I think the individual cities should be making the call for themselves, instead of the state. But our country was designed to give the States power to make those decisions, stupid or not. Better to allow the elected TN body to make the stupid calls than to place all your choices, stupid and smart, in one basket (a.k.a DC). Once you give a handful of unelected officials in Washington this kind of power, it’s nearly impossible to put that genie back in the bottle. Which can be especially horrific when a new (again, unelected) group gets put in place and starts doing stupid, stupid things.