Net Neutrality in Retreat?

If you’re a “net neutrality” critic, and dabble in schadenfreude, things are looking up!  First, there was oral argument in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (Comcast v. FCC), during which the panel clearly appeared to reject the notion that the FCC had authority to pursue its ambitions in this regard.

Then, just last week, there was the White Paper filed at the FCC on behalf of Time Warner Cable by constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe, arguing that net neutrality as proposed is likely unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Last but not least is the report, debated but out there, that the Administration is cooling on net neutrality because it fears that it might depress the amount of capital the private sector invests in broadband deployment — an argument also made here — thereby defeating the goal of ubiquitous broadband access and stunting job growth as well.

One can only imagine the anguish such a turn would engender in the net neutrality crowd.  A conflict between Free Press and the Administration?  How could they reconcile it?  What manner of prose could they summon to express their innermost feelings?  The “vituperative retreat” perhaps, or maybe something more stylish, like an Olbermannesque commentary.  Perhaps they’d initiate, simultaneously, 100 diary threads on DailyKos.

Well, we don’t know for sure but we can dream.  What we do know is that Chairman Genachowski’s plan of extending and codifying the FCC’s "Internet principles,” announced with such confident fanfare not so long ago, is now coming under heavy fire from lots of quarters.

Laurence Tribe’s brief is particularly noteworthy, both for its line of argument and for the road map it lays out for a court challenge on constitutional grounds, should net neutrality be formally adopted.  To quote just one of several poignant passages therein:

Net neutrality proposals rest on the mistaken premise that the constitution gives the government a role in ensuring that the voices of various speakers receive equivalent attention and that audiences receive equal access to all speakers.  In fact, a central purpose of the First Amendment is to prevent the government from making just such choices about private speech, including decisions about what amount of any given kind of speech is optimal.

That Tribe was an active supporter of the candidacy of President Barack Obama, and served as a judicial adviser to Obama’s campaign, suggests that he has the Administration’s ear on such matters.  This, coupled with speculation about the reason for the departure of Susan Crawford, a strong proponent of net neutrality, lends weight to the notion that the Administration may be reconsidering its erstwhile support of net neutrality regulation.

If so it would just be another example, as H.L. Mencken put it, that for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.