At the end of January, on a 3-to-2 party-line vote, the Federal Communications Commission agreed to impose the first-ever government regulations on the Internet.
The new rules, which critics say will stifle innovation, investment, and jobs, are the brainchild of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, an Obama appointee, who is one of the nation’s leading advocates for an idea known as “net neutrality,” which treats the Internet like it was a public good, like broadcast television and radio that the government should be able to regulate.
The decision to go ahead with adoption of the new rules is not sitting well with members on Capitol Hill and flies in the face of the D.C. Circuit’s April 2010 ruling in the BitTorrent case that the FCC failed to show it had authority to regulate Internet network management.
Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden, who is leading the charge to overturn the agency’s new regulatory regime, says “The FCC shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers by advantaging web companies over broadband providers. We want innovation and investment at both the edge and the core” of the Internet.
To Walden, the FCC’s new rules are anticompetitive and are a clear case of the agency going too far. “I don’t think the FCC has the authority to set these so-called net neutrality rules,” he says, adding “I’m not alone.”
“There’s a broad chorus of congressional voices that agree the FCC overstepped its bounds. That’s what we’re going to raise with the five commissioners in front of the subcommittee next week, and that’s why we’ll offer a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act.”
The Review Act allows Congress to undo a regulatory agency’s action within 60 days of its adoption by voting to approve “a motion of disapproval” that cannot be blocked by a filibuster in the Senate.
The problem with the FCC’s new rules, critics say, is that it takes away from carriers the ability to manage their networks and negotiate agreements that should be determined by engineers, entrepreneurs and consumers in the marketplace. Instead, they say, the new regime gives that power to unelected bureaucrats who are, in essence, accountable to no one. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
These fears are also, according to a recent Rasmussen Poll, shared by public at large. According to Rasmussen, only 21 percent of the country supports the idea of network neutrality. More than half of those surveyed said they were confident the free market could do a better job of protecting the Internet while 56 percent said they thought the FCC would use its new powers to push a political agenda. [See the 10 best cities to find a job.]
If left unchallenged, say critics, the FCC the will be able to move forward in a “power grab” that allows it to regulate not only the Internet but almost any interstate communication service on a whim or in favor of well-connected special interests without any additional input from Congress or, even more dangerously, without any ability to stop them.