When the US Constitution was written and approved in 1789, the Christian churches exercised a power over the culture that was at least equal – if not superior to – the power of the central government. For that reason, the culture in which the Constitution was created must be considered when interpreting the Constitution. Net neutrality today plays a role similar to that played by the christian church back then.
American culture in the late 18th century was deeply Christian. This is not to say that every person was a Christian, or that every person believed or practiced Christianity. It is merely to say that the prevailing, publicly accepted ethic was traditional Judeo-Christian morality. Anyone who publicly violated those ethics would incur the opprobrium of the majority.
The Founders could implicitly rely on public morality to provide a counter-balance to any unbalanced behavior on the part of the government – at least insofar as that unbalanced behavior violated public morality and ethics.
(Please note my repeated use of the words “public” and “publicly”. It is intentional.)
The First Amendment to the Constitution clearly defines the most significant limits to the power of the government:
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.
To summarize: Congress is prohibited from making any laws which might:
- Provide any governmental backing to any religion.
- Prohibit the exercise of any religion
- Make it illegal to say some things
- Abridge the freedom of the press
- Prohibit peaceful assemblies
The First Amendment prohibits Congress – that point needs to be emphasized – prohibits Congress from inhibiting the power of those institutions and people who act as a counter-balance to the government.
There was nothing written into the Constitution about the need for an external institution to act as a counter-balance to the power of the government because the existence and potency of that external power was simply taken for granted. I believe the Founders assumed that an external counter-balance to the corrupting influence of government would always exist. They were wrong. The situation today is greatly changed.
In 1789, those powers were the Church and the Press. The power of the Church is so greatly diminished today that it no longer acts as a counter-balance to the power of the government. The Olde Media has become little more than the Public Relations arm of Government. In other words, the traditional counter-balances to government no longer exist.
…the Internet is the great Counter-weight.
It gives the common man a voice that can be heard around the world. It allows him to bypass the corporate and governmental gate-keepers. It gives him -really “Us”- the power to make public those things which government minions (governminions?) would prefer be kept secret.
The Church is impotent and the Olde Media is co-opted, but bloggers, new media reporters and internet investigators stand today as the last line of defense against an ever-encroaching state.
“Net Neutrality” is a vital component of this counter-balancing power of the internet. If the corporate behemoths that own the “pipes” of the internet also are given power to censor the content, (by way of charging different rates for different types of data), then the balance of power is once again weighted disproportionately in favor of the rich and powerful and against the poor and powerless.