Mystery proposal to regulate the Internet

If President Barack Obama wants his executive branch to resemble the opaque, power-hungry political machinations in Chicago, he seems to be succeeding in the area of Internet regulation.

In April, a federal court told the Federal Communications Commission that it has no business regulating the Internet. Unfortunately, judicial rejection of the commission’s first swing at the “Net neutrality” ball — the idea that the FCC must regulate the Internet to ensure everybody has equal access — did not deter Obama’s FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, from taking another whack. He is bringing a new set of proposed Net neutrality regulations to the five-member panel today.

Unfortunately, nobody knows any details about the new proposal because Genachowski has kept its details secret until the last possible minute, even as he rushed them forward for a vote.

How ironic that the Internet — the great and empowering liberator of information that “wants to be free” — is being chopped up behind closed doors by an unelected panel.

In their Net neutrality quest, Genachowski and two of his fellow Democratic appointees are working to expand government power into an area where the commission has no jurisdiction, under the guise of solving a problem that does not exist. Meredith Baker, a Republican FCC appointee, summarized the situation well: “We have two branches of government — Congress and the courts — expressing grave concerns with our agency becoming increasingly unmoored from our statutory authority. By seeking to regulate the Internet now, we exceed the authority Congress has given us and justify those concerns.”

Incoming House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., has called on the FCC to “cease and desist.”

This exercise in government opacity and overreach is already damaging the economy. As major telecom and Internet service providers prepare to roll out new fourth-generation wireless service for millions of customers, these unelected bureaucratic commissars are recklessly creating doubt about the future value and profitability of those companies’ investments. And they are discouraging future investments that need to be made for the Internet to continue its phenomenal growth.

Federal courts will almost certainly strike down anything the FCC adopts today, just as they did earlier this year. Congress will have its chance to undo Genachowski’s handiwork through the Congressional Review Act. But why should we have to go this far to rein in a government agency supposedly run by people who took an oath to “support and defend” our Constitution? Is Obama unable to make his own appointees obey the law?

Either way, the new Congress should hold Obama accountable for what the FCC is now doing in his name.

Barack ObamaeditorialsOpinionSan Francisco

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