FCC commissioner: Political content on internet in danger from regulators

If the FEC and FCC ever team up to stifle political speech on the internet, never let it be said that we didn't have fair warning.

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, one of two Republicans on the 5-member commission, told the Right Online conference in Washington, D.C. that regulators see political speech on the internet as inherently dangerous and will probably seek to severely restrict it and regulate it in the near future.

Talking about the new regulations governing the internet, Pai issued his warning about what's afoot in Washington:

However, Pai said it was only the beginning. In the future, he said, “I could easily see this migrating over to the direction of content… What you’re seeing now is an impulse not just to regulate the roads over which traffic goes, but the traffic itself.”

Continuing, he said, “It is conceivable to me to see the government saying, ‘We think the Drudge Report is having a disproportionate effect on our political discourse. He doesn’t have to file anything with the FEC. The FCC doesn’t have the ability to regulate anything he says, and we want to start tamping down on websites like that.’”

In February, Pai co-authored an editorial with former FEC Chairman Lee Goodman that warned of efforts by those agencies to regulate content online.

“Is it unthinkable that some government agency would say the marketplace of ideas is too fraught with dissonance? That everything from the Drudge Report to Fox News… is playing unfairly in the online political speech sandbox? I don’t think so,” Pai said.

“The First Amendment means not just the cold parchment that’s in the Constitution. It’s an ongoing cultural commitment, and I sense that among a substantial number of Americans and a disturbing number of regulators here in Washington that online speech is [considered] a dangerous brave new world that needs to be regulated,” he concluded.

How might such regulation take shape?  The FEC has been pining for years to go after websites that contain partisan political content who get monies from political groups, nonprofits, and political campaigns and parties.  So if you own a blog, and you run a political campaign tower ad in the sidebar, the FEC will want you to fill out a lot of paperwork and otherwise harass you.  And your content will be scutinized to make sure you're not violating any other FEC regs.

It's an insidious form of control, because in addition to coming down on and regulating actual political speech, it discourages individuals and companies from posting on some issues and personalities lest they be seen as too partisan.

We've heard too much from regulators over the past few years – including the IRS, who also wants to regulate political speech – to ignore Mr. Pai's warnings.  But in addition to vigilance, nothing less than an overturning of the established order in Washington will protect our free speech rights.

If the FEC and FCC ever team up to stifle political speech on the internet, never let it be said that we didn't have fair warning.

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, one of two Republicans on the 5-member commission, told the Right Online conference in Washington, D.C. that regulators see political speech on the internet as inherently dangerous and will probably seek to severely restrict it and regulate it in the near future.

Talking about the new regulations governing the internet, Pai issued his warning about what's afoot in Washington:

However, Pai said it was only the beginning. In the future, he said, “I could easily see this migrating over to the direction of content… What you’re seeing now is an impulse not just to regulate the roads over which traffic goes, but the traffic itself.”

Continuing, he said, “It is conceivable to me to see the government saying, ‘We think the Drudge Report is having a disproportionate effect on our political discourse. He doesn’t have to file anything with the FEC. The FCC doesn’t have the ability to regulate anything he says, and we want to start tamping down on websites like that.’”

In February, Pai co-authored an editorial with former FEC Chairman Lee Goodman that warned of efforts by those agencies to regulate content online.

“Is it unthinkable that some government agency would say the marketplace of ideas is too fraught with dissonance? That everything from the Drudge Report to Fox News… is playing unfairly in the online political speech sandbox? I don’t think so,” Pai said.

“The First Amendment means not just the cold parchment that’s in the Constitution. It’s an ongoing cultural commitment, and I sense that among a substantial number of Americans and a disturbing number of regulators here in Washington that online speech is [considered] a dangerous brave new world that needs to be regulated,” he concluded.

How might such regulation take shape?  The FEC has been pining for years to go after websites that contain partisan political content who get monies from political groups, nonprofits, and political campaigns and parties.  So if you own a blog, and you run a political campaign tower ad in the sidebar, the FEC will want you to fill out a lot of paperwork and otherwise harass you.  And your content will be scutinized to make sure you're not violating any other FEC regs.

It's an insidious form of control, because in addition to coming down on and regulating actual political speech, it discourages individuals and companies from posting on some issues and personalities lest they be seen as too partisan.

We've heard too much from regulators over the past few years – including the IRS, who also wants to regulate political speech – to ignore Mr. Pai's warnings.  But in addition to vigilance, nothing less than an overturning of the established order in Washington will protect our free speech rights.