A couple of weekends ago, when my entire family was down with illness and rain was pouring outside, the Internet was our best friend. What better to do while sick in bed than catch up on all of my Facebook friends’ lives, find new ebooks to download from Amazon.com, catch up on a backlog of movies over Netflix, and tweet until my fingers were tired? And I don’t just mean myself—the whole family was doing all of that, and more. Watching YouTube videos, posting YouTube videos. Between coughs and sneezes.
Here’s what’s remarkable: According to the FCC our Internet connection, which facilitated all of that activity flawlessly, without a glitch, no longer counts as broadband.
There is literally nothing we want to do on the Internet that our connection can’t handle. And we have a teenager, for a clincher. We’re reasonably early adopters of just about every Internet connected device and service. But our Internet connection no longer meets the FCC’s definition of broadband.
Our connection speed was squarely within the definition of broadband until just a couple of weeks ago, when the FCC retracted previous policy standards and redefined broadband.
How does that make sense? Why would the FCC set a standard that so obviously isn’t true? How does a supposedly “expert agency” get something so wrong?
For political reasons. You see, all the FCC has to do is redefine broadband at a higher speed, and now they can argue that America’s broadband networks are insufficient and thus require greater FCC intervention.
And it’s part of a pattern. This is not the first time that the Obama-era FCC has radically departed from previous established FCC policy. Previously the FCC found that the wireless market is highly competitive. But as soon as an Obama-appointed FCC Chairman took office, the FCC decided that the wireless market was in fact not competitive, and previous FCCs all just got it wrong somehow.
The sad fact is that the FCC, purported to be an expert technical agency, has been thoroughly politicized—it’s now simply a political extension of the Obama administration and thus has been indentured into the administration’s regulatory power grab over the Internet.
Detailed reporting by the Wall Street Journal has revealed that the entire time the FCC was working to craft a more reasonable net neutrality compromise, the White House was engaged in a “secret,” parallel, closed process to craft a different policy that “stunned officials at the FCC.” The White House process was closed to some stakeholders and influenced by conversations with President Obama at a fundraiser. Those meeting with the White House were not required to register as lobbyists and were told to “not discuss the process openly.”
The White House effort “essentially killed the compromise proposed by Mr. Wheeler” and “swept aside more than a decade of light touch regulation of the Internet and months of work by Mr. Wheeler toward a compromise.”
So much for an “independent agency.”
In our constitutional republic, the proper place for public policy to be made is by the elected representatives of the people, through legislation. Congress has stepped up and Senator Thune has introduced legislation that would settle the net neutrality debate once and for all. Congress should be given time to act, but the President and Senate Democrats have made it clear that the Thune legislation is not acceptable: What they wanted all along was heavy federal regulation, not net neutrality. The gig is up.
Because the FCC has forsaken its mandate to be both expert and independent, Congress now has every reason to gut the FCC and radically downsize its regulatory scope and authority.
The FCC could be completely eliminated, and its few key functions distributed among other relevant agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Frankly, many of the FCC’s functions already overlap with the FTC, NTIA, and the Justice Department. In light of the FCC’s grotesque abrogation of its mandate to be expert and independent, a creative Congress could easily eliminate or dramatically scale back the FCC’s power.
Such a reform of the FCC is in fact long overdue, and Chairman Wheeler has set in motion the mechanism of its execution. By sacrificing his agency to President Obama’s radical progressive agenda to put the federal government in regulatory control of communications media, Chairman Wheeler should in fact be the last Chairman of the FCC as we know it.