Image: Kevin Martin
Manuel Balce Ceneta  /  AP
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin, seen here at a news conference in Washington, wants free broadband for the masses — free of cost and free of smut.
Helen Popkin
By
msnbc.com
updated 12/5/2008 11:52:53 AM ET 2008-12-05T16:52:53

Isn’t it enough that the government thinks they know better than us when it comes to spending our entertainment dollars? In February, they’re making our perfectly adequate faux wood-paneled TVs obsolete by cramming free digital TV down our throats.

Now that meddling FCC wants to tell us what to do — or rather what we can’t do — with our free broadband … if and when we ever get it. Naturally, the agency that brought us Janet Jackson’s Nipplegate doesn’t want you lookin’ at pornography.

See, there’s this 25-MHz of largely unused wireless spectrum lusted over by big-name providers and Silicon Alley startups. After a couple of years of thinking about it — or thinking about getting around to thinking about it — the FCC has almost pretty much decided to auction off that empty air. The caveat, however, is that the winner must make 25 percent of that unused wireless spectrum available for free broadband access.

Also, and pay close attention to this part, that free broadband must be filtered of all adult content.

Why? Because FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said so. This extraneous condition on an already drawn out and increasingly convoluted conversation is impractical, unnecessary and … well … stinks of moral elitism.

Martin says that he wants to get free broadband to rural areas, where dial-up and satellite-based Internet still predominate. As you former AOLers recall, dial-up can’t handle interactive content such as streaming video, and decent satellite broadband starts at around $100 a month.

So the FCC chief wants people who can’t otherwise afford it to have access to a semi-decent broadband. Noble enough, especially considering this economy. But then he adds the puritanical imperative. Because, you know, people who can’t afford $100-plus satellite access shouldn’t be allowed to see naked people engaging in sexual activity. What's more, people who can't afford $100-plus satellite access apparently can't be trusted to monitor the Internet activity of their kids.

Meanwhile, the would-be airspace bidders aren’t happy about the idea of providing 25 percent of their newly acquired wireless spectrum for free. They’re not happy about it for a variety of reasons. However, none of those reasons are nearly as click-catching as the portion of this deal I’m fixing to go off on. Suffice to say, the would-be bidders are against it even if, as the proposal states, the free broadband need not be as speedy as the for-pay connection, and the winner can load that free airspace with all kinds of clunky advertisements to complement the obligatory smut filter.

Slow Internet with no naughty bits?  Where do I sign?!

Jiminy X-mas, it’s like the whole Blue Ribbon Campaign never happened!

You know, the Blue Ribbon Campaign for Online Freedom of Speech, Press and Association! The Electronic Frontier Foundation launched the campaign to combat to the big dumb Communications Decency Act of 1996. Back then, the World Wide Web was young and fresh and some people started freaking out over what they saw as the rise of pornography on the Internet … and you know, the children! The children! Won’t somebody please think of the children?

(As if the Internet would even exist as we know it today if it wasn’t for pornography. As technology writer David Storm wrote in his 1998 essay, “In Praise of Porn,”  “ … Internet payment schemes, streaming video and authentication. By and large, these technologies (were) primitive outside cyber-porn and probably wouldn't have gotten there without the mass-market appeal of sex.” But I digress.)

Early Netizens no doubt remember those blue ribbon icons all over the Web that the EEF hoped would spread awareness of the never-ending threats against free speech. Thanks in no small part to the Blue Ribbon Campaign, the Supreme Court struck down the Communications Decency Act in 1997.

Now, here we go again.

I should point out that after some recent kerfuffle from free speech groups, the proposal was  amended to include an “opt out” option for consenting adults looking to taint their very souls. (And of course, most kids these days aren’t very clever about computer stuff so they’d never figure that out.)

Seriously, though. Let’s not even talk about how there is no indisputable evidence linking pornography as the single contributing factor towards antisocial behavior. I almost believe that even radical anti-porn feminist Andrea Dworkin would recognize the frivolous pomposity added to this already complicated subject. What a bizarre moral judgment. Here are your food stamps, poor people! Now, only buy vegetables and low-fat protein sources — no birthday cake or Yodels!

Plus, there’s the whole part about the random effectiveness of smut filters. Good luck trying to research breast cancer or find delightfully adorable photos of cute little kittens called something else that’s easily misinterpreted by the puritanical programming. And what of straight-laced citizens who wish to blog positively about the government’s anti-porn programs? They’ll never find the Web site.

Most smut filters are designed to ping on obscene keywords used by the lowest pornographic denominators. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of esoteric content of a blue nature that never pings the smut filter — it just takes a bit of creativity and a base knowledge of bizarre fetishes or the Victorian era to find it. And thanks to our biological imperative, we always find it.

Should this 25 percent of free broadband ever make it into the laptops of the unwashed, the greatest result will be a nation of impoverished porn connoisseurs.

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