Despite opposition by a House of Representatives majority and a bipartisan group of Senators, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday is expected to proceed with plans to impose federal government regulation of the Internet, which would essentially treat broadband networks -- and the companies that invested more than $200 billion in private capital to deploy them -- as utilities.
The commission's chairman, Julius Genachowski, and his staff have insisted that imposing federal regulations originally written in the 1930s for the telephone is the only way the Obama Administration can gain the "kind of oversight and control that we need," says an FCC staffer with ties to another Democrat commissioner. "Look at the Gulf oil spill, that's what happens when we let corporations just do their own thing without any accountability. We can't allow that to happen with the Internet. We won't allow it."
The vote to continue the review and comment process at the FCC is expected to be a party-line vote, with the two Republican commissioners voting against the proposed regulatory scheme.
Under the Obama Administration's plan, the FCC would be able to enforce so-called "net neutrality" rules, allowing the federal government to set how broadband and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) manage the networks. By bringing broadband and the Internet under FCC regulatory oversight, the FCC would also be able to impose policies related to speech or online business models.
"The American public really has no idea how devastating these policies are going to have on free speech and the Internet," says a Republican Senate staffer. "If they are able to impose these regulations, they would be able to impose a host of different regulations that would limit free speech online and essentially give the left the upper hand. First the auto industry, then health care and the financial services industry, now this."