FCC readies vote on government takeover of internet

The Federal Communications Commission will vote today on whether to classify the internet as a "utility" for purposes of regulating net neutrality. The new regulations will clear the way for government domination of the internet and could radically alter the fundamental manner in which the internet operates.

The Hill:

For supporters, the new net neutrality rules will provide the clearest restrictions to prevent Comcast, Verizon and other Internet service providers from interfering with people’s access to view any website or online service they choose.

“We’re on the eve of a historic event at the FCC,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said during a Wednesday morning hearing on the rules. “Tomorrow, the commission is set to put into place what will be the strongest Internet protections consumers have ever had.”

In order to enact those strong protections, the FCC will take the controversial step of reclassifying broadband Internet service so it can be treated similarly to a utility, like traditional phone service. For GOP critics, that’s a gross expansion of the agency’s powers that troublingly echoes a proposal advanced by President Obama, despite the FCC being an independent agency.

The vote — which is expected to fall 3-2 along party lines — will usher in the next stage of the decadelong war over rules for people’s access to the Internet. 

In coming months, that new fight will play out in the court of public opinion as well as the halls of Congress and the nation’s judicial system.

Congressional Republicans have already unveiled legislation to replace the rules, and that effort is likely to continue in coming weeks, when they hope the momentum will shift back in their favor.

Lawmakers have also raised concerns about improper coordination between the White House and the FCC. Major cable companies have already said they are nearly certain to sue over the rules.

“Tomorrow’s commission vote does not signal the end of this debate,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said during Wednesday’s hearing. “Rather, it is just the beginning.”

“If the FCC tries to move forward with this net nonsense, it isn’t going to stand,” pledged Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). “The courts won’t allow it; Congress won’t allow it.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler refused to testify before Congress or hand over requested documents - a man after Obama's heart, there.

Two previous attempts to regulate the internet have been tossed out by the courts so these rules are by no means certain of taking effect. Did Wheeler exceed his regulatory authority in reclassifying the internet as a utility? That may be one question the courts will look carefully at.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of net neutrality. Preventing big companies from creating "fast lanes" for big customers while slowing down the internet for the rest of us is probably a good thing to some degree. And if that's all the new regs did, there wouldn't be the outcry over them.

But there's more to it, as Ev Erlich writing in Reuters points out:

In addition, if the Internet can be regulated like phones were, then why not Google, Facebook and Netflix, which people also use to communicate through services like messaging?  Expanding utility regulations to the Internet opens the door for the regulatory agency to stick its nose into their activities, too.

And what’s perhaps most overlooked is that this form of regulation still allows phone companies to offer different tiers of service, which is exactly what net neutrality — the core principle sought by policymakers — is supposed to prohibit. That’s just another reason why the Wheeler decision to treat the Internet as a utility is so mistaken.

Congress will almost certainly take a hand in this debate, either by trying to block the new regulations or by passing its own net neutrality law. So the vote today is just the first show across the bow by the FCC and their attempt to take over the internet and have the government run it.

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