Economy, Regs, & Taxes

Is Obama Neutering the Net?

It's a nuanced issue that we don't trust Obama's man Wheeler to fix.

Feb. 5, 2015
I need you to free the Internet

On the way to fundamentally transforming America, an unregulated Internet poses quite a problem. So this week, former Obama fundraiser and Obama-appointed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his proposal to fundamentally transform the Internet into a heavily regulated public utility similar to wired phone lines.

It’s all part of Barack Obama’s push for net neutrality, which he claims is the idea that there should be an open flow of information over the Internet. What better way to protect freedom than to regulate it?

That said, it’s fair to admit that Internet providers created the opening for this new regulatory regime by running shoddy monopolies that irritate customers and don’t compare favorably with much of the developed world. Thus, Obama and Wheeler have an excuse to do what they do best: regulate.

In an op-ed in Wired, Wheeler wrote, “I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC.” Ah, yes, freedom via red tape. “My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.”

As we noted before, some Internet users pay for a premium plan to increase bandwidth and gain access to high-end volume and quality, while others may opt for a lower-priced service that meets their needs.

Oh, the injustice. How dare consumers not all want the same thing. Well, regardless of whether they want it, the Obama administration wants to make sure they get it good and hard. So, Wheeler wants to guarantee the Internet is “fast, fair and open,” and to do so, he wants the FCC to “implement and enforce open internet protections.”

In truth, this administration can’t abide recognizing a freedom that exists apart from itself; instead, it believes it must bestow every “freedom.” Never mind that what government gives government can also take away. So the power to tell Internet companies what they can and must do is inseparable from the power to tell them what they can’t. Red flags, anyone?

Wheeler’s move hardly comes as a surprise. As recently as last year, he was opposed to treating the Internet like a public utility, but it’s amazing what a presidential appointment followed by extensive presidential pressure can do to one’s “firmly held” convictions. Yet, feigning a nod to Wheeler’s imaginary independence, Obama administration officials say they are “certainly encouraged” by Wheeler’s proposal, which is “consistent with the view the president articulated.” How about that.

The FCC is expected to vote on Wheeler’s proposal on Feb. 26, and with Democrats holding a 3-2 majority on the commission, the new rules will likely pass. But GOP lawmakers are scrambling to stop them by legislatively banning the reclassification of the Internet as a public utility. Unfortunately, the GOP plan may be little more than regulation by a different name.

In the end, net neutrality is a nuanced issue. Cable companies are dead last in customer satisfaction because of their monopolistic practices, and the biggest problem facing the Internet is the lack of competition among providers. But subjecting the Internet to Title II regulations isn’t likely to fix that.

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