Angry liberals are set to descend on the Federal Communications Commission to disgrace themselves by shouting down the proceedings. The lead group involved, Free Press, has sent out an invitation asking people to bring “pots, pans or whatever else you can bang on so the FCC hears our message loud and clear.” Banging on pots and pans as an exercise in clarity? It gets better: “Together we’ll dance, drum and shout that the agency must throw out its destructive plan and reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service. This is the only way to restore real Net Neutrality.”
“Restore” is an odd word choice, because the reclassification of broadband Internet as a Title II telecommunications service, also known, ironically, as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), would bring about total government economic control on the Internet that has never previously existed.
The FCC settled the matter definitively in 1998, when Clinton-appointed FCC Chairman William Kennard demolished the same reclassification arguments being made today by the pots-and-pans-bangers in that year’s report to Congress:
“Classifying Internet access services as telecommunications services could have significant consequences for the global development of the Internet. We recognize the unique qualities of the Internet, and do not presume that legacy regulatory frameworks are appropriately applied to it.”
Notably, the Kennard report itself did not represent a departure from earlier policy. It even noted that the 1996 Act left in place the framework created in the Carter-era by the 1980 Computer II decision.
The FCC has subsequently gone on to affirm the treatment of broadband Internet as an unregulated information service at every opportunity, including cable modem service in 2002, DSL in 2005 and mobile broadband in 2007.
It worked. The unregulated Internet flourished into a remarkable engine of economic growth, innovation, competition, and free expression. Such triumph makes a compelling argument for continuing the long-time hands-off policy.
Nonetheless, bowing to scare tactics from Free Press and others on the angry left, for the first time in history the FCC imposed so-called net neutrality regulations in a December 2010 vote.
The “net neutrality” concept they adopted didn’t go so far as to reclassify broadband Internet under Title II, but it imposed some features of old-fashioned POTS regulation, most significantly a blanket prohibition on large content companies ever paying a portion of downstream bandwidth costs - meaning higher bills for consumers.
It was the first affirmative regulation of Internet service in American history. So did Free Press cheer? No, they hated it, writing:
“Today, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski gave AT&T a decision that was gift-wrapped for the holiday season. By a 3-to-2 vote, the FCC passed a rule that... favors the very industry his FCC is supposed to regulate, leaving Internet users with few protections.”
In January, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals struck down that regulation. The rule was in effect from November 20, 2011 until January 14, 2014 - just over two years. And because it was widely viewed as illegal and likely to be struck down, it had little impact even when it was in effect. Yet when it was, as expected, struck down, Free Press sprang back into action, bemoaning the end of a rule they had opposed, writing:
“An appeals court struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order... Translation: This court just killed Net Neutrality. This could be the end of the Internet as we know it.”
Got that? The Internet is supposedly in imminent risk of collapse because the short-lived rule was struck down, restoring the multi-decade status quo under which the Internet developed. Supposedly, the big bad phone and cable companies will start blocking all your favorite websites any day now - even though they would lose customers to their competitors in droves.
So Free Press and the rest of the angry left demanded that the FCC, now under Chairman Tom Wheeler, embark on another quest to conjure a net neutrality regulation that might survive legal scrutiny.
When Wheeler dutifully complied, they turned around and attacked him, as they did his predecessor. All the liberal groups signed a letter saying:
“We strongly urge the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider and abandon efforts to adopt rules that would harm - rather than preserve - Net Neutrality.”
Why is there no pleasing Free Press and their fellow travelers? Why do they angrily proclaim over and over again that the Internet is on the brink of collapse if government doesn’t save us - but find every proposed regulation inadequate?
The founder of Free Press, Robert McChesney, once let the truth slip in an interview with a Canadian website called SocialistProject:
“At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies. We are not at that point yet. But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”
Well, good luck with that. Serious people should understand who the angry neutrality nuts are and what they want - and then do exactly the opposite.
Mr. Kerpen is the president of American Commitment and the author of “Democracy Denied.” Kerpen can be reached at email@example.com.