Don’t Let Activists Control The Internet

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Mike Wendy President, Media Freedom
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Since Congress voted to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) flawed, unbalanced, and anti-consumer privacy regulations last week, noise from paid-for consumer “activists” has reached new levels of hysteria.

Their latest caterwauling stems from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s comments supporting the repeal of the much maligned privacy rules. “The President pledged to reverse this type of federal overreach in which bureaucrats in Washington take the interests of one group of companies over the interests of others, picking winners and losers,” Spicer broadcasted.

It didn’t take long for The New York Times to take the ball and run with it, bringing activist fervor onto the social networks, with cries of “doomsday” for the Internet.

What these “activists” frequently overlook, however, is the difference between consumer protection and unnecessary regulation.

The FCC’s privacy rules, for example, only applied to Internet Service Providers – thereby covering just one segment of the online economy. The rules needlessly usurped the Federal Trade Commission’s jurisdiction over broadband privacy, splitting protection into two disparate and confusing regimes for consumers: one for ISPs, onerously regulated by the FCC; and one for companies with the most access to your online data like Google, Amazon and Facebook.

No one supports glaring loopholes like that.

Congress’ vote to remove the rules that had not even gone into effect do nothing but maintain the status quo. And despite the howls from the activists, no ISP will now start set selling consumers’ browsing history.

Broadband privacy isn’t the first time professional netroots activists sought to pick winners and losers on the Internet. Screams that the “sky is falling” and “the end of the Internet as we know it” are common themes in the never-ending debate over Net Neutrality and Title II rules.

Net Neutrality is the widely accepted principle that consumers should have unhindered access to legal online content and applications. Title II, on the other hand, are common carriage regulations dating back to 1934 and the era of Ma Bell and black rotary phones that will kill investment in new networks. These stifling regulations headlined the Obama Administration’s assault on the ISP industry in its attempt to prop up a handful on edge companies like Google and Netflix at the expense of so many others.

Antiquated rules like this have no place in the modern day digital economy.

Title II is also restrains free speech. The Internet is the primary hub for modern communications. The activist community loves to argue that Title II protects freedom of speech but this could not be further from the truth. The FCC’s actions forbid innovative companies from shaping their products and services as they desire. This regulatory scheme puts the First Amendment on its head and interposes government where it has been forbidden to go by the Constitution.

Even more damaging, Title II rules prohibit ISPs from offering the full range of services any other company in America would reasonably be allowed to offer to remain competitive. This relegates America’s most capital intensive companies to the sidelines, picking winners and losers in a manner contrary to the interests and desires of the marketplace.

What these Title II activists fail to see is that from the Internet’s inception, consumers have experienced Net Neutrality without Title II regulation.

Luckily, The Trump Administration is prepared to act to end the Obama Internet power grab. Signing legislation repealing the FCC’s broadband privacy rules is just the beginning of a new Internet policy that protects consumers and investment. Reversing Title II will put the country one step closer to comprehensive free speech, economic freedom, growth, jobs and prosperity online.

Or in other words, the Internet will be Made Great Again.

Mike Wendy is president of Media Freedom, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.