Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Big Government Vs. the Internet

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Big Government Vs. the Internet

Following his party's devastating losses last November, President Barack Obama made clear that where his party could no longer legislate, it will regulate. Just a month later, America saw his words become action when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to issue new rules regulating the Internet, even though courts and Congress have stood in opposition to its actions. Tomorrow, the House of Representatives is poised to voice its opposition to the FCC's unmitigated power grab and will vote on a resolution to block the FCC's rules, sending a powerful message that enough regulation is enough, and the FCC should keep its hands off the Internet.

The policy the FCC is trying to enact is known as "net neutrality," an unfortunately vague code word for government regulation of the Internet. Supporters of net neutrality will tell you the regulation is necessary to keep the Internet "free and open" and to prevent corporations from "throttling" network speeds, making it faster to download some things, slower to download others. And, in this doomsday, apocalyptic, dystopian future, only the FCC can save the day with more and more government regulations.

FCC, stay home, the reality is much different. FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, who opposes the net neutrality policy, explains that the policy isn't needed, and regulation by the FCC can lead to even greater problems, such as rival Internet providers attacking each other in hopes of getting them regulated:
Everybody wants an open Internet that enhances freedom, but that's what we have today. We already have enough consumer protection laws on the books to cure many of the hypothesized fears (that some see). The goal should be to make the market more competitive.

All we are going to do with this FCC decision is clog up the courts and increase billable hours for lawyers; litigation will supplant innovation.

So how does that affect consumers? The Heritage Foundation's James Gattuso explains:
The net result [of net neutrality]— a slower and more congested Internet, and more frustration for users. Even worse, investment in expanding the Internet will be chilled, as FCC control of network management makes investment less inviting. The amounts at stake aren't trivial, with tens of billions invested each year in Internet expansion.

Case in point:  MetroPCS, a wireless company that offers low-cost, prepaid cellular plans for consumers who don't want a long-term contract. The company offers a $40 per month plan for customers on its slower 2G wireless network and, to sweeten the deal, provides compressed versions of YouTube videos to its customers who otherwise couldn't receive streamed videos with their service. Thanks to the FCC's rules, MetroPCS is now facing a complaint for violating net neutrality. Its crime? Devising a low-cost way to provide fast, efficient wireless services to its customers. So much for innovation in the marketplace.

The need for regulation of the Internet aside, the FCC doesn't even have the legal authority to enact these regulations. Like any federal agency, the FCC can only issue regulations if Congress delegates it the power to do so. Though the FCC has the power to regulate telecommunications, it hasn't been granted the power to regulate the Internet. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC's attempt to regulate the Internet was outside the scope of its authority.  That didn't stop the FCC, though. It went ahead and issued new regulations anyhow.

That regulatory overreach is unfortunately all too common in the Obama administration. From the FTC to the FCC, the EPA to HHS, an alphabet soup of agencies are issuing a spiderweb of regulations touching all corners of American life. The food we eat, the cars we drive, and now the Internet we surf are all subject to regulations by unelected bureaucrats.

The Internet is one of the Obama administrative state's next targets. Congress, thankfully, has taken note – this time. But Americans must take note, too, and heed their president's promise. What he can't do by law, he will do by regulation. And once enacted under the cover of night, such regulations are not easy to untangle.

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