President Obama on Tuesday used the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to impose government controls over the Internet. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's implementation of so-called "net neutrality" regulations offers a foretaste of the White House's shift to rule by unelected bureaucracy now that Republicans have regained control of the House of Representatives.
For the first time ever, the FCC will regulate the way Internet companies are allowed to do business in the same way that the agency regulates 19th-century technologies such as the telephone. The red tape is being offered in the name of protecting Internet freedom and prohibiting companies from "unreasonable discrimination." The rhetoric sounds good, but there are no significant examples that such discrimination is taking place. Moreover, there is no reason to think the free market would be incapable of resolving any future difficulties.
Innovation has thrived online precisely because Uncle Sam has not yet stepped in with his usual mix of crushing taxation and arbitrary rules. That all changes with the FCC's latest action. Mr. Genachowski is asserting control over the Internet without any legal authority for his actions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in April rejected a previous FCC attempt at imposing net-neutrality rules. Congress has not given the FCC this responsibility. Agencies like the FCC have no business making law, but Mr. Genachowski seems to think constitutional limitations don't apply.
If the public is uncomfortable with having government bureaucrats redesign the way they are allowed to access the Internet, not much can be done about it. Democrats retain a 3-2 majority on a commission whose members are not subject to public review. Despite Mr. Genachowski's claims that he is acting to protect the "openness" of the Internet, he refused to release the rules in advance of Monday's vote. In fact, the rules were not even made available after the vote was taken. It's this sort of secretive process that makes the agency an unsuitable replacement for Congress.
As Republican FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell pointed out in his dissent, the process is ripe for abuse. "Using these new rules as a weapon, politically favored companies will be able to pressure three political appointees to regulate their rivals to gain competitive advantages," he explained. With armies of lawyers, the big players in telecommunications know exactly how to game the system at the FCC. No upstart firm will have a chance against future rules patterned after Mr. Genachowski's intervention this week.
The rest of the government's unaccountable agencies likely will repeat this pattern, enabling Mr. Obama to implement his leftist policy agenda without worrying about the consent of the governed. The Environmental Protection Agency likely will put forward various regulations imposed in the name of the global-warming hoax. Perhaps immigration agencies will implement a form of regulatory amnesty. When laws are made by those who have no need to stand for re-election, there's no limit to what can be done.
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