Call it the largest plan for government regulation that no one can read — at least, the largest in almost five years. This time, though, even Congress can’t read it yet, even if they were so inclined. The plan comes from FCC chair Tom Wheeler, and it imposes Barack Obama’s vision of Net Neutrality by regulatory fiat. FCC commissioner Ajit Pai says to get ready for a government takeover — and lots and lots of new taxes:
First, President Obama’s plan marks a monumental shift toward government control of the Internet. It gives the FCC the power to micromanage virtually every aspect of how the Internet works. It’s an overreach that will let a Washington bureaucracy, and not the American people, decide the future of the online world. It’s no wonder that net neutrality proponents are already bragging that it will turn the FCC into the “Department of the Internet.” For that reason, if you like dealing with the IRS, you are going to love the President’s plan.
Second, President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet will increase consumers’ monthly broadband bills. The plan explicitly opens the door to billions of dollars in new taxes on broadband. Indeed, states have already begun discussions on how they will spend the extra money. These new taxes will mean higher prices for consumers and more hidden fees that they have to pay.
Third, President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet will mean slower broadband for American consumers. The plan contains a host of new regulations that will reduce investment in broadband networks. That means slower Internet speeds. It also means that many rural Americans will have to wait longer for access to quality broadband.
Fourth, President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet will hurt competition and innovation and move us toward a broadband monopoly. The plan saddles small, independent businesses and entrepreneurs with heavy-handed regulations that will push them out of the market. As a result, Americans will have fewer broadband choices. This is no accident. Title II was designed to regulate a monopoly. If we impose that model on a vibrant broadband marketplace, a highly regulated
monopoly is what we’ll get. We shouldn’t bring Ma Bell back to life in this dynamic, digital age.
Fifth, President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet is an unlawful power grab. Courts have twice thrown out the FCC’s attempts at Internet regulation. There’s no reason to think that the third time will be the charm. Even a cursory look at the plan reveals glaring legal flaws that are sure to mire the agency in the muck of litigation for a long, long time.
And sixth, the American people are being misled about what is in President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet. The rollout earlier in the week was obviously intended to downplay the plan’s massive intrusion into the Internet economy. Beginning next week, I look forward to sharing with the public key aspects of what this plan will actually do.
New taxes? Slower Internet? Fewer choices? Sounds … like a nanny-state’s wet dream, actually. Needless to say, Wheeler made it sound a little more palatable when he rolled out the proposal earlier this week — although not far enough out for anyone to actually read it:
Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, published an opinion piece in “Wired” Wednesday outlining his plan for net neutrality. The article comes as the FCC approaches a highly anticipated vote on the issue Feb. 26.
Wheeler laid out his intent to use the commission’s authority to create “the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC.” The central points: to ban paid prioritization, or the controversial “fast lane” that would allow Internet service providers to take money from big sites (think: Google, Netflix) for expediting the transmission of their content, and, on the other side of the coin, the blocking and throttling of data.
Wheeler has an axe to grind against the telecoms, as it turns out:
Wheeler harkened back to his days as president of an Internet startup called NABU that was trounced by AOL in the ’80s. While his company delivered access over cable networks, which relied on the television operators granting access, AOL was using phone lines, to which the FCC had mandated open access in the 1960s.
That granting of access let AOL thrive where NABU (though “delivering better service”) failed. Furthermore, without that granting of access, Wheeler argued, “the Internet wouldn’t have emerged as it did.”
Based on that success, he believes it is once again time for the commission to flex its muscles.
We’re basing current policy based on an ancient feud over dial-up networking? Hey, nothing against AOL or NABU, but none of that matters these days. The Internet managed to grow past the AOL model without government intervention, and access hasn’t yet been a problem.
Peter Suderman warns that this is a vast sea change for the Internet industry, and echoes Pai’s points about the opening for state and federal taxes of all kinds to start hitting Internet delivery and usage. Plus, Suderman argues at Reason, if this plan was all Wheeler says, what’s with the secrecy?
According to an op-ed by Wheeler and other accounts, it would not only reclassify wired broadband service as a Title II utility, like the phone system, it would also apply to wireless data. In addition, it would give the FCC new authority over the Internet’s backend—the middleman services that transfer data between Internet service providers (ISPs). It would pave the way for new taxes to be applied to Internet service.
It would, in other words, be a fundamental break from the sort of relatively light federal regulation that has defined the Internet since its inception, and it represents a blatantly political reversal on the part of Chairman Wheeler, a technically independent agency head who plainly caved to White House pressure.
But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the proposal, which is 332 pages long, is that it is being kept secret from the public—and it will remain secret until after a vote later this month in which it is likely to pass on a 3-2 basis, with Wheeler and the FCC’s two Democratically appointed commissioners outvoting the two Republican-appointed commissioners. …
The commissioners can see the plan before they cast their votes. But the rest of us can’t. Lobbyists will likely be able to discover key details affecting their clients, and some details will leak out in the press. But the full text of the plan won’t be made public at all before the vote.
Call this the Nancy Pelosi Method of Regulation:
Yes, this worked out so well five years ago that we should just trust our regulators to keep us away from “the fog of controversy.” Never mind all of that stuff you learned in civics about “representative government,” transparency, and accountability. Or perhaps this is the Loki Principle of Human Governance at work. Is not this … simpler?