The National Council of Churches, following in the footsteps of the United Church of Christ, has joined the debate over “net neutrality.” It has sent a resolution to the Federal Communications Commission urging its adoption, and made some questionable claims in the process, for instance:

Whereas, faith communities have experienced uneven access to and coverage by the mainstream media, and wish to keep open the opportunity to create their own material describing their faith and traditions;

In other words, the news media have not covered everything the NCC wanted them to cover, and has not made the NCC far more important than it actually is.

Whereas, if vital net neutrality protections are not assured by the FCC, large for-profit companies providing Internet services may have a commercial incentive to favor their own content over others and as a result could limit the activity and equal access of members of faith communities and other non-commercial organizations online;

Notice the weasel words “may” and “could.” This is as opposed to the reality, which is that there have been no instances of this in recent years (at least since AOL’s hold on the market was shattered, and maybe not even before then). This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what Internet providers do now. They are no longer (if they ever were) the one-stop-shop for everything you might want on the Net, from news to email to games to chat to file transfer, etc. Any provider that sought to limit what flowed through its system would be quickly abandoned in droves by its subscribers.

Furthermore, to the extent that any provider would have a reason to favor its own content over that of independent entities, it would almost certainly be for the purpose of preventing certain users from monopolizing bandwidth (for instance, by preventing peer-to-peer networks from transferring enormous movie or game files without restriction), which is hardly a concern for the vast majority of “faith communities,” including the NCC.

The fact is that this is a red herring offered by those who instinctively fear anything that is not under government control, especially if any sort of profit is involved.

Whereas, we believe the only way to carry out this mandate is for the FCC to ensure that the National Broadband Plan guarantee network neutrality applicable to all types of technology used by citizens to access Internet communications services, both wired and wireless, and equally applicable to the Internet services provided by telecommunications providers, cable providers, wireless mobile Internet access providers, and any other type of technological access to Internet services;

This is typical of the NCC. As an organization, the NCC is philosophically opposed to the idea that the private sector or private citizens are capable of running their own businesses or lives. Therefore, it wants the government to get involved, even where there are no present problems (and state regulation is liable to create others), simply because it is petrified of the idea of private enterprise and initiative. That has nothing to do with faith, but everything to do with politics.

Whereas, network neutrality principles will allow the full diversity of voices to flourish and will be the principle that will make broadband access a meaningful self-empowerment tool driving achievement of these broad social goals;

Net neutrality has nothing to do with broadband access, a UCC-driven fetish about which I’ll say more in a moment. As for the “full diversity of voices,” I guess the folks at the God Box don’t get on the Internet very often, because if there is anything “flourishing” right now, it is the ability of people of virtually any viewpoint, on any subject, to set up on the Net and start talking.

Thus we are brought to the punchline:

Therefore, we jointly urge the Federal Communications Commission to take any and all action to adopt network neutrality, including reclassification of broadband services as a telecommunications service, as a fundamental and necessary part of the framework for all forms of broadband Internet service that will protect the freedom of every individual and group to see and hear and send any information they desire.

Every “individual and group” in the U.S. currently has that freedom. Until such time as the free market shows itself unable to continue to guarantee that freedom, the only effect that government intervention is likely to have is to restrict it. Picture this: how would Internet political discussion look if current campaign finance laws were applied to it? Imagine the FCC equivalent of the Ohion Elections Commission, which last week declared that the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life group, had made “misleading” claims about Rep. Steve Driehaus on the subject of taxpayer-funded abortions in the ObamaCare bill. The point is that once the feds get their hands on the Internet, and begin regulating it for content, there’s a real possibility, based on its track record on other free speech issues, that such speech will wind up regulated, resulting in a decrease in that freedom that the NCC claims to be so interested in securing.

One other thing, and that has to do with broadband access. The UCC has been making itself look ridiculous on this subject for more than a year (remember the “Bring Betty Broadband” campaign?), and now the NCC has joined in:

The resolution included a preamble quoting Dr. Hamadoun Touré, general secretary of the International Communications Union, who said broadband access is a “basic civil right.”

Touré, a professional international civil servant, is from Mali in West Africa. It’s one of the 10 poorest nations in the world, with a per capita income estimated in 2006 to be $470. I wonder what the average Malian would think of the idea that one of his countrymen wanted the world to think that broadband access is a “basic civil right,” a notion that is akin to saying that possession of a Cray supercomputer or a Mercedes CL-550, or a subscription to satellite radio or the New York Times, is a “basic civil right.”

Of course, Touré works for the U.N., so he’s paid to say stupid things. What the NCC’s excuse is is anybody’s guess.

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