'Fairness doctrine for the internet' challenged in court

A Federal appeals court may restrain Obama's attempt to impose new government rules on the internet.  So-called net neutrality, which would require that internet providers treat all data equally, without delay or restriction, was part of President Obama's campaign platform, and is a priority for Obama's law school classmate, FCC Chairman Julius Jenakowski.

The Wall Street Journal reports that in a hearing on a dispute between the FCC and Comcast a three-judge panel has questioned the FCC's authority to require internet carriers to "give equal treatment to all traffic on their networks."  The FCC had challenged Comcast for attempting to manage the flow of its web traffic by blocking the use of file-sharing services.  The FCC argued it was simply enforcing its open-internet policy, but the judges disagreed:

"You can't get an unbridled, roving commission to go about doing good," said Chief Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit...

Judge A. Raymond Randolph repeatedly said the legal provisions cited by the FCC were mere policy statements that can't justify the commission's action. "You have yet to identify a specific statute," he said

The judges' decision in the case could throw into question the FCC's push to impose so-called net-neutrality rules.

The FCC rules would require, for example, that a carrier could not feed their own content faster than a competitor's content.  Net neutrality has broad populist appeal, but is likely to have the same deleterious effects that government intervention brings to other industries.

The major internet carriers, who are investing billions in data networks and infrastructure, argue that "the government should not intrude on their network management operations" and that wireless carriers need to control the flow of large data applications such as video downloads.  In addition, network engineers need the ability to control traffic to stop viruses and to keep the system going during peak usage.

Providers also contend that the market is highly competitive, and that existing antitrust and FTC rules already protect against unfair practices.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) spoke against net neutrality last fall, concerning content provided by Nashville entertainers in her state:

"Net neutrality, as I see it, is the fairness doctrine for the Internet," she said... "The [content] creators  do not want a czar of the Internet to determine when they can deploy their creativity over the Internet.  They do not want a czar to determine what speeds will be available... We shouldn't look at technology as how do we punish and impede, but how do we encourage innovation."

If the court rules against the FCC it will impede progress on the neutrality rules, although a Democratic Congress may step in to expand the FCC's power.  In an indication of the FCC's concern, the FCC attorney told the court "If I'm going to lose, I'd like to lose more narrowly."

At every turn, the deadening hand of the Obama administration seeks to fulfill the urge to mandate and regulate.  The push for net neutrality has the potential to turn one of the great modern innovations into a government regulated utility, akin to the Postal Service, with the government nose under the internet tent likely to stifle innovation, reduce quality and limit competition, with predictable consequences for the free market of ideas over the internet.