FCC Illustrates Its Inability to Govern the Web

When Google and Verizon unveiled their joint net neutrality policy proposal, in which the FCC would play a central role in governing the internet, I mentioned how the the FCC might not be the kind of institution you’d want to hand over control to over your pornography life line (also known as the internet). Over the past few days, the FCC pretty much reiterated just why they are no the right people to govern the web.

In Google’s and Verizon’s joint policy proposal, the FCC would be the one to oversee net neutrality on the wired internet, while also keeping eye on the non-neutral wireless internet and the proposed internet++. In passing, I already made the remark that the FCC might not be the right kind of organisation for this task.

I’ll explain why, and luckily, the FCC itself is helping a great deal in making this explanation much easier. Over the past few years, the FCC has been involved in a court case with several US broadcast networks who claim that the FCC’s strict indecency rules and fines covering profanity and nudity are unfair.

This case has been bouncing back and forth a few times, but the latest volley comes from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York who struck down the FCC’s indecency policy, stating it is a violation of the First Amendment. Since we’re dealing with lots of people from Foreign on OSNews (including myself, actually), the First Amendment is the freedom of speech and religion part of the US Bill of Rights.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that a government institution issuing fines for profanities on broadcasting networks is a direct violation of this First Amendment. The FCC, however, disagrees, building on the usual “think of the children!”-argumentation so many politicians – the world over – are so very fond of.

“The three-judge panel’s decision in July raised serious concerns about the Commission’s ability to protect children and families from indecent broadcast programming,” FCC general counsel Austin Schlick told The Hill, “The Commission remains committed to empowering parents and protecting children, and looks forward to the court of appeals’ further consideration of our arguments.”

As we all know – surely the parents among our audience – it is the job of television networks to raise and protect our children. Some might believe that it is the parents’ job to take care of their children and shield them from things they may not be ready for, but those people are just being silly and quaint, of course.

There’s a lobby group for letting television networks – instead of parents – raise children. They’re called the Parents Television Council, and have a very snazzy tagline: “Because our children are watching”. This lobby group obviously sides with the FCC.

“The FCC’s challenge of the Second Circuit ruling is an important step in the right direction. Without Supreme Court action, the Second Circuit ruling would kick down the door for indecent content to be aired at any time of day over the public airwaves – even in front of children,” said Parents Television Council President Tim Winter.

And we wouldn’t want that, would we? Can you imagine what horrors we would bestow upon our children if they see an exposed breast or hear the ‘f’-word? Or, worse yet, if they see an exposed penis? I mean, the damage done by that copy of Playboy magazine I found when I was 12 is still visible today, and let’s not even speak of the consequences of me finding out my hotel room in Sweden had a porn channel when I was 15. My crippling addiction to heroin, cocaine, and unicorn dust can be traced back to that very moment.

Joking aside, this is a very serious matter. One of the strengths of the internet is not just the neutrality on the infrastructure level, but also on the content level. You can find whatever you want on the internet, and you’re free to do as you please. Having the FCC police it, fining ISPs or whatever for not blocking porn sites or, well, profanities would do major damage to the web – damage that would extend far beyond US borders.

I can assure you that several governments all over the world – including the despicable one here in The Netherlands – are more than happy to copy the FCC model of policing the media. This particular case will most likely find its way back to the Supreme Court, which will have to decide once and for all if the FCC’s policies are constitutional or not.


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