As I have repeatedly warned and noted on www.ObamaChart.com, when Congress blocks the Obama administration, the White House always finds a way to get around the normal policy-making process and pursue its agenda by other means. Today’s reclassification assault on the Internet is the latest—and perhaps the most egregious—example.
In its effort to imposing crippling net neutrality regulations on the Internet—an idea with very little support from the American public or Congress—the Obama administration first turned to the FCC simply to pretend Congress has given it authority to regulate.
That effort suffered a major setback when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals emphatically smacked down the FCC’s regulatory proposals in Comcast v. FCC. President Obama and his close friend and FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, however, refuse to back down. Instead they’re escalating to the regulatory equivalent of a nuclear attack on the free-market Internet: Chairman Genachowski will announce today his intention to reclassify broadband Internet as an old-fashioned telephone system as a pretext for pervasive regulatory control.
Broadband Internet service has never been regulated like old-fashioned telephone lines -- classified as “Title II” under the Telecommunications Act. The FCC settled the matter definitively in 1998, when Clinton-appointed FCC Chairman William Kennard demolished the same reclassification arguments being made today in that year’s Report to Congress:
Our findings in this regard are reinforced by the negative policy consequences of a conclusion that Internet access services should be classed as “telecommunications” … Classifying Internet access services as telecommunications services could have significant consequences for the global development of the Internet. We recognize the unique qualities of the Internet, and do not presume that legacy regulatory frameworks are appropriately applied to it.
If Chairman Genachowski announces, as expected, his intention to reclassify the Internet as a telephone system, he will be reversing 30 years of precedent starting with the Carter administration FCC’s “Computer II” decision and definitively settled with respect to broadband Internet access by the Clinton FCC in 1998. Turning sharply left from Carter and Clinton indicates a pretty extreme shift beyond the mainstream of American politics.
Such a shift is unjustified, because free-market Internet policy has been a tremendous success. The Internet -- in the absence of regulation -- has flourished into a remarkable engine of economic growth, innovation, competition, and free expression. Such triumph argues in favor of continuing existing successful policies, but with today’s announcement the FCC shows it is more interested in satisfying a left-wing political constituency than continuing sound policy.
Consider the words of one of the leading advocates of Internet regulation, Robert McChesney, founder of the left-wing group Free Press. McChesney said to SocialistProject.ca: “What we want to have in the U.S. and in every society is an Internet that is not private property, but a public utility.”
He went on to explain: “At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies. We are not at that point yet. But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”
Not surprisingly, Free Press put out a statement yesterday just minutes after the story leaked that the FCC would pursue reclassification. Remarkably, they openly stated that even the nuclear option of total regulatory control under a utility-type model is not enough for them, saying: “This is extremely welcome news. We reserve judgment, however, on whether the FCC has gone far enough.”
The communications industry is, like health care, roughly one-sixth of the U.S. economy. Unlike health care, however, the FCC seems to believe it can take over the communications system with just three votes at the Commission. If they insist on trying, Congress needs to step in and stop them.
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