Bubble wrapping the internet

By Katie Kieffer


Image credit: FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images

When was the last time the government intervened in your life and you felt safer? When the current administration accepted campaign funds from BP and then exempted BP from an environmental impact analysis that might have prevented the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill? When Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) staffers scoured the web for porn and then self-righteously accused Goldman Sachs of internal corruption?

As I blogged last week, the FTC wants to control Facebook, and more broadly, the FCC wants to control the internet. The FCC wants to have overt regulatory control over the internet, purportedly so that it can “protect consumers.”

Caution: When the government tries to “Bubble Wrap®” things, it typically ends up dropping them on the floor before they get bubble wrapped.

The Internet

The FCC tried to gain regulatory control over the internet through it’s “ancillary” authority (authority not directly granted by Congress, but a presumed extension of a different task Congress had assigned to it). But, on April 6, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied the FCC’s broad interpretation of its own “ancillary authority” in Comcast v. FCC.

Now, the FCC will likely try to challenge the Court’s decision by pushing to “reclassify” broadband as a “telecommunications service” rather than an “information service” so that it can more easily regulate it.

Head of the FCC, Julius Genachowski. Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Head of the FCC, Julius Genachowski. Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The FCC is intended to be an “independent” agency. In reality, it is chaired by a man who is arguably operating from a biased political agenda, namely Julius Genachowski.

Prior to 2009, when President Obama appointed him to chair the FCC, Genachowski “advised and guided the Obama campaign’s innovative use of technology and the Internet for grassroots engagement and participation.” Upon Obama’s election as President, Genachowski chaired a working group to map out a policy plan for future government intervention in technology, which promised to “fundamentally change” the landscape of technology as we know it.

Here are some questions worth considering:

What is wrong with the current landscape of technology? Today, the internet still operates under an essentially free market system. Sure, there is unsavory information on the internet. But, I think individual Americans should be able to decide what they want to see on the internet, not the FCC or any other arm of the government. If you don’t want to see it, filter it, baby!


Swearing-in ceremony for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on July 15, 2009. Image credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

If we allow the government to start telling us what we can and cannot view on the internet, the U.S. will take one step closer to looking like China, where the government gets to censor what it doesn’t want the people to know or hear. Bottom line: Should we be forced to pay for “McGovernment” on top of McAfe to protect ourselves online?

Is this really why we have these government agencies – so they can spend American tax dollars surfing for porn and controlling minute aspects of what we see, share and do on the internet?

Telecom policy analyst at Reason Foundation, Steven Titch, outlines a few more reasons why you don’t want the FCC to gain more control over the internet by reclassifying it:

“The FCC also wants more control over your cell phone, and more regulations will arise as the Internet increasingly goes mobile through devices like the iPhone. The FCC wants a say in what Apple does, what Google does, how apps work together or with your phone, where and how an ISP and application provider work together. That level of micromanagement from government bureaucrats is a disaster in the making for an always-changing, rapidly evolving tech industry.

There are countless other ways the FCC is about to get involved in our lives:

Away from home and want to use your laptop to set your DVR to record the finale of “Lost”? Not if the FCC places restrictions on the way cable companies can link set-top box features to broadband Internet connections.

Want to turn on your house alarm remotely with your cell phone? Not if the FCC prevents or regulates service bundling or co-branding between broadband ISPs and alarm companies.

These are just two examples of consumer-friendly services that are available today. They arose out of the unregulated broadband ecosystem that could now be subjected to FCC intrusiveness if the agency gets its way.

There’s no telling where else the government might demand jurisdiction. Going forward, when an ISP wants to develop and introduce an Internet service or feature it will have to be concerned about whether it will run afoul of, or draw scrutiny from, the FCC.

And more regulation means higher costs. As a result, many tech companies will be less likely to innovate and will build less broadband infrastructure. So instead of Internet speeds that have continued to grow, the government’s net neutrality plans could stall future advancements and lead to deteriorating broadband infrastructure in some parts of the country.

Ultimately, any costs that tech companies and ISPs do incur from FCC meddling will be passed on to us, the end users. So we can probably expect higher bills, and perhaps all those surcharges and administrative fees found on phone bills will apply to our Internet service, too.”

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