FCC grasping for relevancy with net neutrality rules

By Josh Peterson | Watchdog.org

WASHINGTON — Government needs you to need it.

In the same week a Federal Communications Commission plan to monitor newsrooms took the spotlight, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced the agency would also once again seek to impose so-called “net neutrality” rules on Internet service providers.

WEB FIGHT: Net neutrality advocates insist the FCC needs to censure Internet service providers, but free market advocates insist the agency’s net neutrality agenda is a solution in search of a problem.

Leading an agency created during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration to oversee the nation’s wireline and radio communications, Wheeler’s announcement reveals a bureaucratic machine grasping for relevance in the Internet age.

Policy advocates on the right and left cried foul in January when a federal appeals court struck down two out of three of the agency’s net neutrality rules. The rules prevented ISPs from blocking or slowing down content and network traffic.

Progressives argue that without the rules, ISPs pose a threat to free speech and would unfairly discriminate against content providers.

Free market advocates have fought hard for years against the push to regulate the Internet, defending its explosive success as a product of a dynamic marketplace flourishing under deregulation and consumer choice.

The court did, however, recognize the agency’s authority under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to promote broadband deployment and competition — an avenue by which the agency is now using to justify a rewrite of its rules.

Wheeler, in his announcement Wednesday, also kept open the possibility of reclassifying how the FCC categorizes Internet service providers, which would bring the companies under a stricter regulatory regime akin to the days of the mid-20th century.

“As the Court of Appeals noted, as long as Title II – with the ability to reclassify Internet access service as a telecommunications service – remains a part of the Communications Act, the Commission has the ability to utilize it if warranted,” said Wheeler, a former cable and wireless industry lobbyist.

Coupled with intentions to potentially regulate ISPs and overturn state broadband laws, the agency plans to allow ISPs to charge sites like Netflix special fees for higher quality service.

Netflix’s resistance to pay those fees, recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, has been one of several fronts in the net neutrality war for months.

Wheeler’s announcement marks the FCC’s third attempt to win federal judges over to its side of a decade-long war over the future of the Internet.

The White House also recently affirmed its support of Wheeler, an Obama loyalist; President Obama campaigned on net neutrality in 2008.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican, likened the agency’s renewed attempt to write net neutrality rules to the movie “Groundhog Day,” where the main character is forced to repeatedly relive the same day.

Contact Josh Peterson at jpeterson@watchdog.org. Follow Josh on Twitter at @jdpeterson

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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