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Reason Foundation

Save the Net

Abolish the FCC

David Harsanyi
December 22, 2011

Because there exists no area of human activity that couldn't benefit from more paternalistic attention ... Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Federal Communications Commission to your Web browser.

Congressional Democrats cannot find the votes to pass "network neutrality." No problem. Three unelected officials will impose rules on hundreds of millions of satisfied online consumers. A federal appeals court stops the FCC from employing authority over the Internet. Again, not a problem. Three out of five FCC commissioners can carve out some temporary wiggle room, because, as any crusading technocrat knows, the most important thing is getting in the door.

It's not that we don't need the FCC's meddling (or worse); it's that we don't need the FCC at all. Rather than expanding the powers—which always seem to grow—of this outdated bureaucracy, Congress should be finding ways to eliminate it.

Why would we want a prehistoric bureaucracy overseeing one of the past century's great improvements? As a bottom-up, unregulated, and "under-taxed" market in which technological innovation, free speech, and competition thrive—at affordable prices, no less—the Internet poses a crisis of ideology, not commerce, for the FCC.

It's about control and relevance. What else can explain the proactive rescue of the Web from capitalistic abuses that reside exclusively in the imaginations of a handful of progressive ideologues?

What is the FCC doing? It's complicated, and in some ways, it's irrelevant. It claims that regulatory power will ensure that consumers enjoy an "open Internet." (With more broadband providers than ever, is there anything more open than the Internet?) But the FCC can censor speech. And once the FCC can regulate Internet service providers, those providers will be more compliant and more interested in making censors happy.

The FCC also can hand out favors that hurt competition. And as Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Harvard Law School, wrote in 2008, "economic growth requires innovation. Trouble is, Washington is practically designed to resist it. Built into the DNA of the most important agencies created to protect innovation, is an almost irresistible urge to protect the most powerful instead."

Even as Chairman Julius Genachowski claims that he will employ a "light touch," the FCC leaves open the possibility that it will use the Title II docket to classify broadband as a public utility—and, as you know, nothing says progress and modernization like "utility."

The same organization that forced all consumers to buy Ma Bell-made telephones for decades, the same FCC that enforced speech codes via radio "fairness doctrines," the same FCC that took two decades after its invention to OK cellular technology for the marketplace and acted similarly sluggishly with cable and satellite innovation has no business online. It has a history of hurting consumers, not protecting them. (Unless you need protection from fleeting expletives and the once-a-decade nipple controversy.)

It is likely that a new Congress—or perhaps the courts—will undo this regulatory power play. And though "net neutrality," or "open Internet" (no one needs to worry; doublespeak is still flourishing), may not survive, it reminds us that the FCC's institutional positions conflict with the vibrancy and freedom of the Internet.

Positions that are as archaic as they are detrimental.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his website at www.DavidHarsanyi.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.

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Bonus Reason.tv Video: "3 Reasons the FCC Shouldn't 'Touch' the Internets"



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