- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 11, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With trillions of dollars of bailouts, feckless stimulus spending, government takeovers of private industries and horrifying long-range deficits, the radical left has amply demonstrated that it runs the show in President Obama’s Washington, and it’s making the place a laughingstock.

The health care reform effort has become a circus because the White House outsourced its policymaking role to the likes of the scandal-ridden ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and leftist union front groups such as Health Care for America Now.

Mr. Obama’s energy policy has descended into ham-handed efforts to conceal documents and suppress information. This includes suppressing internal U.S. Treasury documents revealing that the Obama cap-and-trade bill will cost America $400 billion per year and an effort to suppress an internal Environmental Protection Agency report casting doubt on the entire effort. Mr. Obama’s own budget director has called the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill the biggest corporate welfare program in U.S. history.

It might all be amusing if our health and prosperity didn’t hang in the balance.

It gets worse. Even with the president’s health care and energy tax campaigns spinning wildly out of control, the Obama administration has decided to start a third major campaign - this one to impose sweeping new government regulations on the Internet.

On Monday, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, announced his pursuit of so-called network-neutrality regulations - one of the NetRoots left’s major priorities - without even bothering to get congressional authority. Mr. Obama offered his immediate support to this “independent” agency, saying of his former Harvard Law classmate: “I am pleased that he is taking this step. It is an important reminder that the role of government is to provide investment.”

Actually, in a free-market economy, “providing investment” is not the government’s role - and if these new rules are too broadly construed, they could dry up tens of billions in annual private investment in broadband infrastructure.

What’s more, they could needlessly restrict Internet service providers’ ability to manage the traffic on their networks. As anyone who watches their TV ads knows, broadband providers have to offer their customers services valuable enough to justify the subscription fees that pay for their multibillion-dollar upgrades.

Advocates of network-neutrality regulations are generally unconcerned that they will result in a collapse of private investment in Internet infrastructure, because they regard private investment - perhaps even the private economy as a whole - as an unnecessary impediment to their vision of government.

Network-neutrality guru Lawrence Lessig of Stanford University is fond of saying: “Broadband is infrastructure - like highways.” Robert McChesney, a doctrinaire Marxist who is Washington’s leading advocate of network-neutrality regulations from his perch at Free Press, recently said in an interview: “Instead of waiting for the revolution to happen, we learned that unless you make significant changes in the media, it will be vastly more difficult to have a revolution.”

If the FCC proceedings on network-neutrality regulations are hijacked by such extremists - including MoveOn.org, the Center for American Progress and Free Press - they could well set us on the road to a government-controlled, even government-owned Internet. Regulating the Internet could easily sweep away the dramatic innovation we’ve seen as the Web has been open to competitive commercial development.

If Mr. Obama and Mr. Genachowski mean it when they say they want to encourage investment and innovation, they should have serious proceedings based on real data, real economics and real history - which will show heavy-handed regulations in the Internet space would be as counterproductive as they are unnecessary.

Moreover, even if the FCC decides there is some need for major new regulations, such policy should be debated by Congress, the branch of government elected to make laws and regulate interstate commerce. The FCC should not be allowed simply to assume for itself such powers.

This new campaign is a government solution in search of a problem, and it does not look promising. If Mr. Obama and the FCC regulate the Internet simply to please the agitators on the far left, they’ll open up a third ring in a Washington circus when most Americans already have seen enough.

Phil Kerpen is director of policy for American for Prosperity.

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