FCC Chairman Bows to White House Pressure, Backs Regulation of Internet

By Barbara Hollingsworth | February 6, 2015 | 3:48pm EST

 

President Obama congratulates Tom Wheeler, his nominee for the Federal Communications Commission, in the White House State Dining Room on May 1, 2013. (AP File photo)

(CNSNews.com) –  Bowing to pressure from the White House, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), said he will support a controversial proposal to reclassify wired and wireless broadband service as a public utility when the FCC votes on the matter February 26.

In an oped published in Wired on Wednesday, Wheeler said that he was proposing new “net neutrality” rules governing Internet Service Providers (ISP) under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which he said would “preserve the internet as an open platform for innovation and free expression.”

Wheeler, one of three Democrats on the five-member commission, added that the reclassification “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.”

The new regulations could cost customers as much as $15 billion in new federal and state taxes and fees, according to the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI). But proponents argue that federal regulation is needed to prevent large phone and cable companies from running roughshod over consumers.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) called Wheeler’s announcement “a big victory… for consumers, for small businesses trying to compete with the big guys, and for innovation.”

Last November, President Obama called on the FCC to adopt “the strongest possible” rules to enforce net neutrality by requiring Internet providers to treat all traffic equally and not allowing them to charge certain large content providers like Netflix more for faster access.

“I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online,” Obama said at the time.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Wheeler changed his position on net neutrality after “an unusual, secretive effort inside the White House, led by two aides who built a case for the principle known as 'net neutrality' through dozens of meetings with online activists, Web startups and traditional telecommunications companies."

Republican members of Congress responded by saying that federal regulation of the Internet would be an unprecedented power grab by the Obama administration that is neither necessary nor wise.

“The White House’s efforts to drag the Internet into 1930s regulations is a move that puts the FCC on the fast lane to the federal courthouse,” House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-FL) warned in a statement.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) called the proposal “a Trojan horse” that would allow the federal government to prioritize content as well as tax Internet users.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). (AP)

“What the FCC wants to do is to get into this queue so they actually precede your ISP in governance of the Internet. What that will allow them to do, in addition to regulating and taxing, is to assign priority and value to all content,” Blackburn  said Tuesday on Fox Business, noting strong bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill.

“This is another way that this administration thinks they can go about and control your access to information,” she contended.

“They don’t have any business going there,” added Blackburn, who introduced a bill last year to prohibit the FCC from regulating ISPs. “The Internet is not broken. They need to leave it alone.”

“It’s pretty stunning to see a major newspaper get such a detailed account of totally inappropriate behavior from an administration that completely steamrolled what's supposed to be an independent, expert agency. The White House basically treated the FCC as their errand boy,” Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment, told CNSNews.com.

“And the most stunning thing to me probably in this Wall Street Journal story is that Obama was still sort of on the fence about doing this, about steamrolling the FCC, and then when he got crushed in the mid-term elections, and there’s this huge Republican landslide, that convinced him to go ahead and do it. That convinced him, oh, for my legacy I’m going to move further left and ignore what the American people just said."

Kerpen’s group delivered 808,363 citizen comments opposing regulation of the Internet to the FCC during the agency’s public comment period, which elicited more than 4 million responses nationwide, and is currently circulating a petition urging Congress to either “stop the FCC or shut it down."

“Congress really needs to understand how completely outrageous what’s just happened is,” Kerpen told CNSNews.com. “The American people elected a Republican Congress. The president responded to that by saying I’m going to move further left, I’m going to hijack an independent agency to advance this political agenda that’s been developed in secret with a variety of my corporate donors and other political allies.

“If that’s not something that Republicans can come together one way or another and stop in Congress, then we've got a real problem.”

Kerpen added that although proponents of net neutrality have been warning for years that large service providers would “break the Internet” by blocking certain websites or redirecting traffic for commercial gain, “all these terrible things never happened.”

“And they never would happen, because these companies are disciplined by competition,” he told CNSNews.com. “If they started blocking what website you can go to, or redirecting your traffic, or what have you, they would lose customers in droves. People would switch to their competitors. The CEO would probably get fired.

“On the other hand, once you install government bureaucrats as the decision makers on how networks are managed, what prices can be charged, and so forth, you actually have a much greater chance that they will make mistakes or do malicious things, and there won’t be any competition to check them because they’re the final word.

“This goes against decades of decisions at the FCC that have consistently said that computer services  and Internet services are not telecommunications services under the act, they’re not subject to these public utility regulations,” Kerpen added.

“This reverses all of that, and so it’s a huge massive break from the way the commission has approached this issue for decades, really.  And it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s clearly not what these laws were designed for.

“Basically what the White House is saying is that we want to regulate Internet providers but we know that Congress will never agree to enact them. So we’re going to try to shoehorn them through this process at the FCC by reclassifying the Internet as a public utility, something that it really isn’t.

Internet server. (Wikimedia)

“To believe that this is a good idea, you have to think that free market competition for the Internet for the past couple of decades has failed, that the Internet’s not working, and what it really needs is heavy-handed government regulation and more taxes,” Kerpen said.

“And I just don’t know anyone outside of really extreme liberals that think that way. They can’t get the popular support to do it the honest way, so they’re concocted this very convoluted sort of backdoor way to get the regulations that they want.”

Besides, he pointed out, “public utility regulation has a disastrous record. It’s extremely anti-consumer. The idea that we would go back to that old-fashioned model is so disastrous from a public policy standpoint, which is why the expert agency charged with looking at this didn’t want to do it.

“And yet here we are, and it’s about to happen anyway because of what the White House did. “

Related: Net Neutrality and what it could mean to you

Related: Commissioner Speaks Out Against Federal Regulation of Internet

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