Internet better off without FCC proposal

Freedom New Mexico

Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has announced that the commission will take up a new strategy for regulating the Internet at its Dec. 21 meeting. Proposed in the spirit of what has popularly become known as net neutrality, the new rules would forbid Internet service providers from blocking any lawful content.

The fear this regulation seeks to fend off is that ISPs that are also content providers, or affiliated with content providers, might seek an advantage for their own material blocking material from other content providers, thus subverting the idea most Internet users find valuable — that ISPs let users have access to whatever material they want.

There are several things wrong with this approach. The first is that the kind of discriminatory blocking of material some advocates fear has not yet happened — most of the handful of examples given were mistakes rather than ISP policy — and, given the incentives in the marketplace, is unlikely to happen. Most consumers like open access, and most ISPs know that — and know that there are competitors out there if they start restricting access to some material. The second is that the FCC does not have statutory authority to regulate the Internet in this way. The third is that this is an obvious political ploy to get a favorite “progressive” policy in place before a Congress reflecting voters’ disillusionment with big government comes into power in January.

The FCC first proposed similar new rules more than a year ago, but bipartisan opposition in Congress stymied the bid. Then a federal appeals court ruled in April that the FCC does not have the necessary authority over the broadband Internet to make such a ruling.

The current proposal is less onerous than previous proposals, but if approved it would be the camel’s nose under the tent. The FCC clearly wants to establish a precedent that could easily lead to rate regulation, detailed mandates and, perhaps, even censorship. At the least it will lead to drawn-out court battles that would create uncertainty and deter further development of the full potential of the Internet.

The FCC would be well advised to drop this unnecessary proposal.