The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is slated to vote Tuesday on an Internet regulation scheme hatched by Chairman Julius Genachowski. It’s bad enough that the commission is attempting yet again to supersede its statutory authority—despite a court ruling halting a previous attempt to regulate the Web. The fact that the public has been barred from reviewing the proposal argues for swift and severe congressional intervention.
Opponents, of which there are many, predict that Genachowski’s ploy would dissuade investment in broadband and much-needed network expansion. Fellow FCC commissioner Robert M. McDowell, writing in The Wall Street Journal today, characterized the chairman’s power grab as “jaw-dropping interventionist chutzpah.”
Since assuming the FCC chairmanship last year, Genachowski has been trying to impose so-called “net neutrality” regulations that would restrict the freedom of Internet service providers to manage their network transmissions. The latest incarnation of controls is reportedly based on a legislative proposal previously floated by Representative Henry Waxman of California—and soundly rejected by Congress. Moreover, the chairman’s prior claim to jurisdiction was firmly rebuffed in April by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.
Although lacking regulatory details, hundreds of consumers, service providers, and other “stakeholders” have filed some 1,900 pages of comments on the FCC’s latest foray into Internet regulation. But anyone hoping to access the comments in the four days leading to Tuesday’s big vote were stymied by a “maintenance” shutdown of the agency’s Web site. Although it’s unlikely that FCC officials actually plotted to block the site, the untimely access restrictions hardly argue for FCC control over all Web transmissions.
It’s not uncommon for a regulatory agency to seek to expand its authority by stealth. Indeed, that appears to be an operating principle of the Obama Administration. Yet from his first day as commission chairman, Genachowski pledged to ensure that the FCC would be “fair, open, and transparent” while encouraging the public to visit the FCC Web site and “contribute to the process.”
That’s impossible to do when the chairman won’t release details about his plan for the most far-reaching government intrusion in Internet history. Nor can citizens participate in the process when the agency Web site is shut down in the days before the commission takes action.
It’s time for Congress to restrain Genachowski’s regulatory ambitions, either with a statutory prohibition against net neutrality regulation or by barring FCC expenditures on same. It’s a good bet such action would help to deliver on the chairman’s promise of fairness, openness, and transparency.