Hands off the web
Without authorization from Congress, and in defiance of a federal court ruling, the Federal Communication Commission this month has seized control of the Internet and has started the process of regulating it. The process could distort the evolution of the Internet and slow investment in it. The agency should be told to back off.
The FCC move occurred as the result of a straight party line 3-2 vote, with the Democratic majority deciding to intrude government regulation on the Web. The decision allows the FCC to impose a so-called “net neutrality” regime on the Web, which means Internet providers would not be able to block access to legal websites.
The regime isn’t needed. Providers weren’t doing that anyway. The FCC also gave itself the power to determine if a network is “unreasonably discriminating” against a content provider in determining how quickly to allow content to appear on consumers’ computer screens.
In other words, the FCC has given itself the authority to involve itself in the business decisions of Web access providers.
It has done so even though, this spring, a federal court ruled that the FCC has no express statutory authority to govern the Internet at all. Congress briefly took a pass at creating its own Internet rules this year and gave up the idea. In fact, a number of members of Congress, including many Democrats, told the FCC to back away from its proposed regulations.
With good reason. For most of the past two decades, the Internet has grown and evolved on its own quite well. There is now a host of new uses for the Web, including entertainment content, and a host of new ways to receive Internet content, including cell phones.
The Web also has been turned into a telephone network.
None of this was foreseen in the early days of the Internet.
And new uses will likely be devised that no one now envisions.
But how much less quickly and smoothly will these adaptations occur under a new government regulatory regime?
Prior to the vote, Republican FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell, who opposed it, wrote in a Wall Street Journal column, “Analysts and broadband companies of all sizes have told the FCC that new rules are likely to have the perverse effect of inhibiting capital investment, deterring innovation, raising operating costs, and ultimately increasing consumer prices.”
After the vote, as if on cue, Brad Burnham of Union Square ventures, which has invested in Web enterprises, told the Journal “the problem is that there is so much ambiguity in the rules.”
Many commentators noted that the phrase “unreasonable discrimination” will generate voluminous legal queries and challenges that the FCC and Internet providers will have to sort out in the months to come.
But the Internet is too integral a part of the economy and too valuable to let overreaching federal bureaucrats gum it up.
The new Congress should definitively tell the FCC to take its hands off the Web.
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