FCC Scrutinized For Coordinating New Internet Regulations With Outside Group

David Williams

June 3, 2011

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been very active lately.  And, taxpayers know that when a federal agency/commission is busy that is not good news for taxpayers or the private sector.  The FCC’s biggest obsession over the last few years has been with regulating the Internet through a concept known as “net neutrality,” which is loosely defined as a system that allows information on the Internet to move freely without regard to content.  In reality, net neutrality is a not so subtle attempt to regulate the Internet.

Battles have been waged by groups on the left and right side of the political spectrum regarding net neutrality.  In short, the folks on the left want the Internet regulated and embrace the expanding bureaucracy that will surely follow.  The folks on the right believe that the free market will bring innovation and that a light regulatory touch is all that is needed. Now there is quite compelling evidence that the FCC coordinated with pro net neutrality groups on the left in advancing the regulation.

A June 2, 2011 Washington Examiner article noted that “Documents made public yesterday by Judicial Watch describe extensive collusion by Federal Communications Commission officials with a left-wing advocacy group in a campaign to expand government regulation of the Internet….The evidence of coordination between FCC Democrats and Free Press uncovered by Judicial Watch includes:

  • Emails between former Free Press president John Silver and Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps from October 2010, coordinating ‘how we’d like to proceed during these next three months on NN [net neutrality].’
  • Documents summarizing a phone call between Silver and Copps in which, before an FCC vote on the proposal in November 2010, Silver ‘emphasized that a strong net neutrality rule is critical to preserving the Internet as a vibrant forum for speech, commerce, innovation and cultural expression.’
  • Correspondence between FCC Special Counsel David Tannenbaum and Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott coordinating speakers for a taxpayer-funded series of FCC ‘internet workshops’ that were intended to generate public support for the proposal.’

The October and November correspondences are especially troubling considering that on December 21, 2010 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released three rules for an open internet, which include:  transparency, no blocking, and no unreasonable discrimination.  According to the FCC, “The first rule requires transparency by broadband providers, who must disclose information regarding their network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of their broadband services so that their subscribers can make informed choices regarding those services, and so that edge providers can continue to develop content, applications, and services. The second rule provides that fixed broadband providers (such as DSL, cable modem, or fixed wireless providers) may not block lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices. Mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services. The difference between the rules that apply to fixed and to mobile broadband providers is discussed below, and in the Open Internet Rule & Order [R&O].  The third rule establishes that fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service.”

According to the FCC, “The Open Internet R&O provides that consumers and edge providers may file a complaint regarding any perceived violation of the open Internet rules pursuant to Section 1.41 of the Commission’s Rules. Consumers interested in filing a complaint are encouraged to do so.  Under the open Internet rules, any person may also file a formal complaint with the Commission. The procedures for filing a formal complaint are explained in the Open Internet R&O at Section V.B.”

Even though the three rules seem innocuous there are concerns.  First, the term “perceived violation” should alarm anybody who is afraid of regulatory overreach since this would create a situation where anybody could report a company that they think is violating open internet rules.  Imagine the bureaucracy that will have to be built, and paid for, to enforce this.  And, if certain groups have influenced the creation of the rule it is logical to think that they will be the ones reporting the perceived abuses and potentially influence the decision makers on punishments.

Any future regulations/actions by the FCC will forever be suspect because they coordinated with at least one outside group to pursue that group’s agenda.

The truth is that the Internet has thrived because government has, up until now, kept a light regulatory touch on the Internet.  Quick reacting business and free market forces will keep the internet thriving, not slow unresponsive government bureaucracies.  A new regulatory regime for the Internet will stifle innovation and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in a newly created bureaucracy.

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