The Conservative Argument FOR Net Neutrality

Free markets and traditional values are the twin pillars of conservative thought. Ronald Reagan embodied both of these beliefs, and was a master at promoting both of these ideas. However, Reagan fully understood that a reflexive anti-regulatory, pro-market ideology does not always promote the core values of decency and family that are at the foundation of the conservative movement. He believed these ideas must exist in concert, not one at the expense of the other.

Corporate America has one priority: to maximize profits for their shareholders and executives. This is a noble and worthy goal, and has served our country and society well in terms of allocating resources and goods in a productive and rational way. A rational allocation of resources in a market economy is desirable in many ways, and markets unleashed from regulatory burden is usually a given.

However, when it comes to the media industry, it is important to remember that free markets can come at the expense of conservative values. The media conglomerates that control much of the entertainment and news landscape in our country are either agnostic, at best, or hostile, at worse, to the traditional family values that have brought so many of us into the conservative movement. The big three networks, the movie studios, and two of the three major national newspapers are all aligned politically and ideologically with forces outside of the mainstream family values that a majority of Americans share, particularly in the areas of sex and violence.

These media conglomerates continue to grow and exert greater and greater influence on the mass culture most Americans consume. They promote entertainment that rejects traditional values and embraces a coarse, crude ethic that is designed to enhance the bottom line, whether or not it raises the level of discourse in our society.

And corporate media is notoriously unfriendly to diversity of opinion, particularly on the right side of the political spectrum. Without the development of the Internet, right of center thought would have been pushed to the outer margins of the debate in the major media outlets, and our ability to change our country consistent with our beliefs would suffer.

This is what the net neutrality debate is really about, at its core: the ability of diverse voices and alternative views to continue to be heard, whether or not it is profitable for Viacom or Disney to air these views. It's about the ability of conservative activists and candidates to communicate directly to our members and supporters without paying an additional toll to Verizon or AT&T.

These conglomerates, if they have their way, would be able to exercise their financial power to crowd out family-oriented, religious, and conservative entertainment and information that has flourished on the Internet as a result of its toll-free nature. If the Internet becomes a toll road, the voices with the deepest pockets will win.

That is the reason why the online pornography industry - a politically unpopular group - has been silent on the net neutrality debate. Commercial pornographers know that a pay-for-play Internet will be a boon for their industry. In this zero sum game, the pornographers gain will come at the expense of family-friendly voices on the Web.

Small, Christian online radio stations will lose the ability to provide their services as tolls become prohibitively expensive, and for these Mom and Pop operations, any added costs could close them down. Churches could lose the ability to webcast services to their congregations and beyond. And conservative grassroots organizations and candidates, who would have to pay increasing fees to the network operators like Verizon and AT&T, rather than using their resources for programs and mobilization. Net neutrality is certainly not a partisan issue. Conservatives depend on diverse and underfunded foot soldiers to spread the word and build our grassroots force. Allowing big media to control our direct access to our activists would be a major blow against our movement, and would tilt the field in favor of the Hollywood-Manhattan media axis that is hostile to our values and our beliefs. It is critical for Republicans to understand the impact of this issue, and see beyond a narrow anti-regulatory focus. The stakes here are large, and the damage will be irreversible.

Jim Backlin is VP for Legislative Affairs at the Christian Coalition of America.

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