So argues David Harsanyi today in his column (which is also at Reason), and Harsanyi gets a big boost from John Fund at the Wall Street Journal. We’ll start with Fund’s analysis of the impetus for the FCC’s decision yesterday to once again claim jurisdiction over the Internet, despite an earlier court ruling against it and Congressional action to warn Julius Genachowski of attempting it again. The intent of this camel’s-nose regulation is to establish FCC authority over the Internet, Fund argues, but that’s just the appetizer:
There’s little evidence the public is demanding these rules, which purport to stop the non-problem of phone and cable companies blocking access to websites and interfering with Internet traffic. Over 300 House and Senate members have signed a letter opposing FCC Internet regulation, and there will undoubtedly be even less support in the next Congress.
Yet President Obama, long an ardent backer of net neutrality, is ignoring both Congress and adverse court rulings, especially by a federal appeals court in April that the agency doesn’t have the power to enforce net neutrality. He is seeking to impose his will on the Internet through the executive branch. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a former law school friend of Mr. Obama, has worked closely with the White House on the issue. Official visitor logs show he’s had at least 11 personal meetings with the president.
The net neutrality vision for government regulation of the Internet began with the work of Robert McChesney, a University of Illinois communications professor who founded the liberal lobby Free Press in 2002. Mr. McChesney’s agenda? “At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies,” he told the website Socialist Project in 2009. “But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”
A year earlier, Mr. McChesney wrote in the Marxist journal Monthly Review that “any serious effort to reform the media system would have to necessarily be part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist system itself.” Mr. McChesney told me in an interview that some of his comments have been “taken out of context.” He acknowledged that he is a socialist and said he was “hesitant to say I’m not a Marxist.”
Fund does a remarkable job in detailing the financing behind the Net Neutrality movement, which is also tied to campaign finance reform organizations. The FCC used studies funded by activists on Net Neutrality to bolster their claims, especially with Harvard’s Berkman Center, which gets a good chunk of funding from the Ford and MacArthur Foundations, not exactly neutral political players. These two foundations funded the kind of media reform efforts advocated by McChesney through Free Press. Did anyone doubt what those studies would show?
Harsanyi argues that the FCC’s push into private networks in competitive markets shows its obsolescence, and its danger:
It’s not that we don’t need the FCC’s meddling (or worse); it’s that we don’t need the FCC at all. Rather than expanding the powers — which always seem to grow — of this outdated bureaucracy, Congress should be finding ways to eliminate it.
Why would we want a prehistoric bureaucracy overseeing one of the past century’s great improvements? As a bottom-up, unregulated and “under-taxed” market in which technological innovation, free speech and competition thrive — at affordable prices, no less — the Internet poses a crisis of ideology, not commerce, for the FCC.
It’s about control and relevance. What else can explain the proactive rescue of the Web from capitalistic abuses that reside exclusively in the imaginations of a handful of progressive ideologues?
What is the FCC doing? It’s complicated, and in some ways, it’s irrelevant. It claims that regulatory power will ensure that consumers enjoy an “open Internet.” (With more broadband providers than ever, is there anything moreopen than the Internet?) But the FCC can censor speech. And once the FCC can regulate Internet service providers, those providers will be more compliant and more interested in making censors happy.
Why do we need the FCC in the 21st century? Most television channels are narrowcasters, using satellites and cable channels that don’t eat up limited broadcast space in local markets. The phone system in the US is no longer monopolized, and the issues of access and competition in those areas could be handled by state public-utility commissions, as they are now. The licensing of broadcast stations could be handled by the Commerce Department, or by a greatly-reduced FCC with binding limitations on jurisdiction.
We have managed to free ourselves from the encumbrances of monopolization over the last thirty years. This country doesn’t need a bloated bureaucracy getting in the way of innovation and commerce. It needs government to acknowledge that its communications-regulation apparatus is archaic and in need of downsizing, rather than attempting to nationalize the media.