Net Neutrality Rules Threaten Internet Free Speech

Advocates of net neutrality regulation profess preservation of free speech online as their motivation for heavy-handed government control of the Internet, but recent events show that just the opposite is true.

Last week, my colleague Ryan Radia pointed out in comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission that net neutrality regulations actually restrict free speech for Internet broadband providers. 

Specifically, he points to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia a few weeks ago that prompted several Internet companies to exercise their free speech rights in severing business relationships with neo-Nazi groups whose websites they hosted or serviced. This right of refusal is an important aspect of freedom of speech and has been acknowledged by the Supreme Court. “[T]he First Amendment guarantees ‘freedom of speech,’ a term necessarily comprising the decision of both what to say and what not to say,” the Court explained in Riley v. National Federation of the Blind of North Carolina. The Court has also held that this guarantee doesn’t just protect speakers—it also protects those who publish the expressions of others.

But under net neutrality regulations, broadband companies are denied this editorial control. Instead they are forced to convey speech they may oppose or disagree with over their private property of networks. Cable lines are not the steps of the U.S. Capitol and no one would expect the New York Times to publish every opinion expressed by every political group. Net neutrality regulations ignore broadband companies’ crucial property rights and deny them their inalienable free speech protections.

The supposed good intentions of net neutrality advocates don’t justify the real world harm of those regulations. Anyone who values free speech should oppose government restrictions on anyone’s speech.