Everybody knows “net neutrality” is a great idea. Right?

Ask any self-respecting member of the digerati and you’ll get the same response. We need net neutrality to “save our Internet.” That’s what all their slogans say, so it must be true.

But do you know what the real issues are? Do the people leading the pro-net neutrality crusades even understand what they’re advocating? Or are they just going along with what seems like a good idea since it’s aimed at big companies they don’t like?

There are few issues today which are as dishonestly framed as “net neutrality.” Although I like many of the outcomes which its advocates favor, the idea is a massive intrusion on private property — and it sets up government to control the Internet.

Briefly, the idea of net neutrality is that any Internet provider must treat every packet of data coming through the network equally. The provider isn’t allowed to charge more or less for one type of data — video or traffic coming from one particular site, for instance. An Internet service provider isn’t allowed to have plans that give a user all the data he wants from one company but have metered access (or no access) for data coming from a different company.

That sounds reasonable, right? On the surface, yes. This has been the way the Internet operated from the beginning, but it was a voluntary arrangement that developed through private agreements. There was no rule that insisted this was the way it had to be. In other words, the market dictated that this was best for the companies involved and for their customers — at least for the most part.

Private companies built their Internet infrastructure and voluntarily linked those networks through peering agreements. Although the original network was started with U.S. government funding, these private companies were allowed to openly build on it without restrictions, so they went with this model instead of the old closed model of the original giants such as CompuServe and AOL. The consumer market demanded interconnected access to various networks, so companies did that instead of continuing to have their individual proprietary networks which were closed off to anyone not on those networks.

Today, companies are experimenting with changes — and a lot of people don’t like that. Frankly, I prefer the neutral model and I think we’re all better off with it, but this is an issue for market forces to decide, not political power.

Political interests want to force the networks to operate according to their own principles, ignoring what is in the best interests of the companies which invest the money. This is a power grab of private networks and it’s wrong, even if I like the end result which its advocates say they want.

The scariest part of it, though, is that once government regulates this much, it’s easy for the regulation to creep further — to outlaw “hate speech” and then “offensive speech” and then whatever is unpopular with whichever majority controls political power.

The people promoting “net neutrality” claim they favor freedom, but what they really favor is forcing companies to operate their networks as they desire — and setting up politicians to have even more control over those networks. The net neutrality advocates are desperately trying to give power to politicians that most politicians wouldn’t dream of asking for.

Only in a world of Orwellian doublespeak can it be “pro-freedom” to give more control to politicians over private actions.

Giving more control to politicians is a terrible idea, but hardly anybody will bother to listen anymore, because they have been so convinced it’s a good idea — without even understanding what’s really at stake.

I don’t care for some of the big companies that are the targets of net neutrality. I’m not even crazy about my own Internet service provider. But the choice here isn’t “freedom vs. big companies.” The choice is “big companies vs. politicians.”

I want a truly free Internet. I want competitors to have the freedom to compete and innovate with new business models, because consumers voting with their spending choices should choose, not politicians.

There are no perfect solutions, but the worst possible solution is giving control to politicians.

What is now called “net neutrality” is really just a method of giving politicians more and more control of the Internet. If that doesn’t scare you, you’re missing the long-term implications of this unwise crusade by well-meaning but short-sighted people.