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Crunch Time to Stop the FCC's Internet Takeover

This week, the United States Senate is expected to finally vote on overturning the most brazen of all of the Obama administration’s regulatory power grabs.  Now, to be the most brazen is tough in light of the EPA’s regulatory onslaught and the NLRB’s effort to tell companies what states they can locate in. But the FCC takes the cake, because their astonishing net neutrality power grab is taking place despite nearly zero support from Congress, an emphatic federal court decision telling them they have no relevant jurisdiction, and a 2010 election in which all 95 candidates who campaigned on the issue lost. A perfect record of failure.  But if the Senate fails to stop the FCC this week, they might get away with it.

On December 21, 2010, President Obama’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fittingly chose the darkest day of the year to ignore Congress, the courts, the American people, and common sense.  They voted to unravel a decade of remarkably successful hands-off Internet policy and impose potentially devastating regulations on the previously free market Internet.

Network neutrality sounds nice. Originally it was the idea that all of the traffic – the zeroes and ones – that travel over the networks that comprise the Internet should be treated exactly the same way.  But engineers cried foul, because the routers that make the Internet work are highly sophisticated, with millions of lines of code that necessarily prioritize different types of traffic.  Streaming video can’t tolerate the delays of a few seconds that, say, and e-mail would not be affected by at all.

So network neutrality morphed into something even more dangerous – empowering FCC bureaucrats to play traffic cops, micro-managing networks and deciding which traffic can or can’t be prioritized.  The result would be a precipitous decline in private investment, because the companies that spend billions of dollars building networks could no longer be certain how the FCC bureaucrats would allow those networks to be used.  

A recent study from NYU found that hundreds of thousands of jobs would be lost.  The tech sector – the brightest spot in our economy – would be burdened by federal regulations the way the rest of the economy has been.

The new leadership in the House of Representatives stepped up early to meet the challenge.  Speaker Boehner has made overturning the net neutrality order a priority, as has Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden.  On April 8, 2011 – the House used the Congressional Review Act to pass a resolution that would overturn the net neutrality order.  It was a solid 240 to 179 vote. 

Now, just days before the network neutrality order takes effect on November 20, the Senate is poised to vote on blocking it.  Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, (R-Texas) the lead sponsor of S.J.Res.6, the vehicle for stopping this power grab, and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have brilliantly used the procedural tools available to them to force a Senate floor vote that cannot be filibustered.  All 47 Republicans are likely to vote yes, with Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine – who supports network neutrality – signing on as a co-sponsor because she objects to the FCC attempting an end-run around Congress.

The question now is whether just four Democrats will vote to stop this power grab, and force Obama to use the veto pen and take personal responsibility if he insists on regulating the Internet.

This is crunch time.  If the FCC can get away with this, then federal bureaucrats can disregard the Congress and the courts and do almost anything they want.  Our representative form of government is at stake.  If you’re ever going to contact your senator about a vote, please do it now.

Phil Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity and author of “Democracy Denied: How Obama is Ignoring You and Bypassing Congress to Radically Transform America – and How to Stop Him,” available at www.DemocracyDenied.org.

Phil Kerpen is the founder of American Commitment Action Fund, on the web at www.BookerFAIL.com.