An interesting development on Internet freedoms in the United States, as the FEC draws fire on political speech regulation.
Political free speech should fall under the same guidelines as any other speech, but with political speech, the federal government can sink its teeth into it under the guise of election and campaign laws—which is just fine.
However, applying the same theories that are used for broadcast and major print publications is naive, has a chilling effect on free speech, and simply does not follow the same spirit that was used in establishing it with older mediums.
“The FEC deadlocked in a crucial Internet campaign speech vote announced Friday, leaving online political blogging and videos free of many of the reporting requirements attached to broadcast ads — for now.
While all three GOP-backed members voted against restrictions, they were opposed by the three Democratic-backed members, including FEC Vice Chair Ann M. Ravel, who said she will lead a push next year to try to come up with new rules government political speech on the Internet.
It would mark a major reversal for the commission, which for nearly a decade has protected the ability of individuals and interest groups to take to engage in a robust political conversation on the Internet without having to worry about registering with the government or keeping and reporting records of their expenses.”
Historically, the FEC and FCC (formerly the FRC) have regulated broadcast media because it was held by ‘public domain.’ No radio or television station ‘own’ the airwaves. There are physical limitations to the number of radio and television stations in any given market. Because of this, the federal government was forced to regulate it and create licensing. With these limitations in place, the only way to protect free speech was to regulate the medium.
The major problem with regulating the Internet in the same way completely misses this foundational aspect. The Internet is far more vast—ultimately limitless. Anyone can post as many YouTube videos as they like. Anyone can start a blog. Anyone can build a website.
Unless Comcast and others get their way and the Internet establishes slow and fast lanes and online data is created equally (net neutrality), the federal government needs to keep their hands away from any kind of free speech—political or not.