Traffic to major online destinations such as Netflix and Reddit slowed to a crawl last week in a symbolic protest known as “Internet Slowdown Day.” It was meant to simulate the waiting, or “buffering,” that would be the new normal if Internet users are forced to pay more for speedier access to certain content.
This was one of several demonstrations that drove a record 3 million users to tell the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to treat everyone equally. Almost nobody filled out a comment card to say, “Give me a slow Internet with lots of discrimination.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has been leveraging this unprecedented public outcry to promote yet another illegal Obama administration power grab. Mr. Wheeler is hosting an all-day “open Internet” round table Tuesday to further promote his idea that the government should get more involved in running the Internet. “Open Internet” is his scheme to deputize himself as the Internet’s traffic cop.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit told Mr. Wheeler that it was “obvious” that he didn’t have any authority whatsoever over the Internet. The FCC regulates television, radio and telephone service. In the mid-1990s, when Al Gore was busy inventing the Internet, Congress revised FCC rules to say “hands off.” The FCC could impose all the red tape it pleased on the old-fashioned communications technologies, but it had to leave “information services” alone.
Plain words of judges and the law have never been an obstacle to this administration. President Obama and his appointees are determined to do as they please. “The consideration we are beginning today is not about whether the Internet must be open,” said Mr. Wheeler as he pushed his new rule in May, “but about how and when we will have rules in place … .”
Those who don’t like the idea of discriminatory treatment of Internet traffic ought to imagine what the Internet would look like under the bureaucracy that has made such a dog’s breakfast of broadcast, cable and telephone service.
Cellphone bills are riddled with puzzling universal service fees to enable the administration to hand out a free Obamaphone to anyone who fills out a form claiming poverty. (Actual poverty is not required). Imagine the freebies that could be made available by taxing every transaction on the Internet.
The FCC’s proposed rules will require captioning for certain YouTube video clips. It’s the sort of ham-fisted, one-size-fits-all rule that applies a broadcast-television mindset to the online world, where cat videos are king and don’t really benefit much from captioning. Cats, obstinate critters that they are, actually have little to say on the Internet.
Ultimately, the administration seeks power over content. Regulatory authority over the Internet is the first step toward suppressing certain viewpoints, as the FCC did for decades under the so-called “Fairness Doctrine.
Inviting the government to set prices and determine which content is acceptable and which is not will make the Internet a closed place. Instead of a “slowdown” protest, major websites must insist on a continuation of the “hands-off” policies that have been such a success.