Obama Administration Looks Divided on Net Neutrality

The FCC and the Commerce Department are at odds over government regulation of the Internet.

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The Obama administration appears a little bit confused about what its policy towards government regulation of the Internet should be.

On the one hand, as The Hill reported just a few weeks ago, a senior U.S. government official “warned the increasing number of foreign government policies aimed at restricting the flow of information on the Internet could serve as an informal trade barrier and hamper economic growth.”

Speaking at Georgetown University, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said the nations of the world must “work to ensure that the Internet remains an open marketplace for ideas and beliefs” as well as “an open marketplace for business.”

“At the Commerce Department,” Locke continued, “we feel strongly that the Internet must remain, as much as possible, a worldwide open market, one where vigorous competition is allowed to thrive and where trade barriers are negligible.”

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On the other hand, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, an Obama appointee, has announced he’s ready to push for regulations on the Internet that would allow the heavy hand of government to reach right into cyberspace under the rubric of what is known as “net neutrality.”

Sort of sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? What Genachowski is advocating, in essence, treats the Internet like it was a public good, like broadcast television and radio, and that the government should be allowed to regulate it as such. As Americans for Prosperity’s Phil Kerpen put it in a recent column, net neutrality “sounds simple—force phone and cable companies to treat every bit of information the same way—but modern networks are incredibly complex, with millions of lines of code in every router, and constantly evolving.”

While Locke appears to be telling the rest of the world to rely on market forces to produce innovations in cyberspace, Genachowski seems to be pushing for just the opposite—and engaging in a power grab while he’s at it.

As Kerpen explains further, the FCC is ignoring what has already been significant pushback from Congress and the courts in deciding to go forward. This includes “letters of opposition to FCC Internet regulation” signed by 300 members of Congress as well as what he calls “A devastating unanimous decision of the D.C. circuit court of appeals in Comcast v. FCC, which eviscerated the Commission’s claims to have the jurisdiction to regulate the Internet.”

The chairman is likely to get his way when the FCC takes up the issue on December 21. That doesn’t mean he’s right—nor does it mean the policy will stand for very long. What it will do is add to the confusion in the marketplace that is helping to keep the U.S. economy from really starting to grow again.

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