Who’s running the FCC?

Kelly Cobb Contributor
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Today, the Federal Communications Commission unveils its plan to regulate the Internet. The details are uncertain, but regardless of whether the FCC’s Internet takeover scheme is simply bad or outright horrendous, the move marks something significantly more important: the FCC has gone completely rogue. Hijacked by pronounced socialist organizations, the Commission is bucking strong opposition from the courts, U.S. Congress, and American public in a ruthless pursuit to regulate the Internet.

The first sign that the Commission couldn’t care less about a system of checks-and-balances came in April when the FCC was handed a devastating loss by a U.S. Court of Appeals. The court found that since the Internet has always been an unregulated “information” service, the Commission was “shattering” the bounds of its legal authority by trying to regulate it through so-called net neutrality rules.

Knowing he would lose an appeal of the decision, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski found solace in longtime friends at the organizations Free Press and Public Knowledge. Before the court ruling, Public Knowledge called for the FCC to reclassify the Internet from an “information” to a “telecommunications” service, arguing it gave the Commission sounder legal authority for net neutrality. They also said it would allow the FCC to set prices and collect data from service providers. FCC spokeswoman Jen Howard concurred, stating that the Court ruling did not “close the door to other methods” to regulate the Net. This is the same Jen Howard that served as Free Press’s press director before Chairman Genachowski offered her the FCC gig, despite promises that lobbyists and special interest groups would be barred from Administration jobs.

Armed with support from Free Press and Public Knowledge, along with three Democratic votes out of five on the Commission, the FCC announced its “third way” proposal for Internet regulation. The plan applies regulations designed for 1930s monopoly telephone service to the Web. Almost immediately, however, bipartisan red flags were raised in the halls of Congress. To date, a vast majority of Congress opposes the “reclassification” plan, including virtually every Republican and at least 77 Democratic Representatives and Senators. In contrast, Free Press and Public Knowledge have managed to cobble together a few letters and statements of support from a handful of prominent Senators and Representatives.

If going against every other branch of government isn’t enough, the FCC, Free Press, and Public Knowledge are also disregarding opposition by the American public. A Rasmussen Reports poll in April found that Americans overwhelmingly oppose regulating the Internet 53% to 27%.

They have also set out to demonize and isolate Internet service providers, which strongly oppose their plan. Last week, Internet service and content providers came together to create an inter-industry dispute resolution group. The Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG) is meant to solve differences over how data is sent through networks; the technical heart of the net neutrality debate. If it works, it is arguably the free-market solution to net neutrality and dispels the need for the FCC to take action. Instead, the FCC ignored the group, while their attack dogs at Free Press and Public Knowledge stated BITAG “is not a substitute for the government setting basic rules of the road for the Internet” and “it is not a substitute for FCC rules” respectively. Talk about coordination.

FCC Chairman Genachowski, Free Press and Public Knowledge have solidified themselves as a lonely trio; dead set on regulatory action, but with the disconcerting ability to possibly pull it off. Their disdain for the private sector and the BITAG working group proves it was never about the net neutrality debate for them; they just want to regulate the Internet regardless of whether other solutions can be found.

The trio has laughed off our system of checks-and-balances, scoffed at bipartisan opposition, dismissed public accountability, and completely ignored free-market solutions. The FCC has been hijacked by two special interest socialist groups and President Obama has given their actions full-throated backing.

So, when the plan’s details come forth today, expect vague and flowery language about promoting competition, innovation, and consumer protection, but don’t be fooled. It’s almost as disingenuous as a pronounced socialist organization masquerading around with the name “Free Press.” The FCC’s push to regulate the Internet has only just begun, and their proposals are likely to only get worse.

Kelly William Cobb serves as executive director of Americans for Tax Reform’s Digital Liberty Project, an organization dedicated to promoting free-market tech and telecommunications policy. Mr. Cobb also manages www.StopETaxes.com, a campaign to fight Internet taxation.