By Brad Matthews | Watchdog Arena
The Obama administration and proponents of the FCC’s version of net neutrality may be ecstatic at the passing of regulations that make the Internet a public utility on Feb. 26th, but not all FCC members are so sunny in their outlook for the future.
TechFreedom held a fireside chat on Feb. 27th with two FCC commissioners, Ajit Pai and Mike O’Rielly, and the two of them concurred that the new regulations are far-reaching, largely unchecked and pose a threat to consumer bills and to innovation in the industry.
Ajit Pai openly questioned what the problem was, saying, “There’s never been a systemic analysis of what the problem with the Internet is. In this order, you see scattered niche examples [Comcast and BitTorrent, Apple and FaceTime, others] all of which were resolved, mind you, through private sector initiatives.” He continued, saying that the FCC’s net neutrality regulatory regime is a solution that won’t work in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.” Essentially, this is, contrary to the assertion of activists and others, a vaguely justified power grab by a government agency.
Mike O’Rielly added, in a bit of humor that “there is a problem, and it’s the document we adopted [Feb. 26].” Neither of them were reticent in explaining exactly how and why the document was the problem. For one, the document was, as Commissioner Pai pointed out, written to solve a problem that wasn’t readily apparent. O’Rielly said the document is “guilt by imagination, trying to guess what will go wrong in the future”; instead of tackling a readily apparent and current issue, the FCC proposal is instead stumbling forward, trying to find future, hypothetical transgressions to retroactively justify its own regulations.
This conspiratorial and wide-ranging thinking on the part of FCC is not a bug, but rather a feature. O’Rielly openly said that “it’s intended to catch everybody”. Pai noted that the FCC was going to centralize powers over what infrastructure was deployed and where through the use of statutes and other laws; O’Rielly mentioned specifically that the FCC was going to “use Section 201 [of the Communications Act] to do it’s dirty work.”
Pai continued, saying that the FCC was largely focused on the ends of Internet regulation rather than the means, and that “a lot of these promises of regulatory restraint are pretty ephemeral.” O’Rielly mentioned that mobile data policies were likely to be subsumed by the new regulations into policies on the wider Internet as a whole. This one-size-fits-all approach ignores the differences in how mobile data is used versus the way the Internet is used by a normal computer or other devices. Many features of mobile service, the two said, could be construed as a company favoring one app or one site over another in terms of data, which would violate the FCC’s standards.
The consumer will inherit many of these new costs and burdens. O’Rielly outright told the audience that “Rates are going to go up because of this.” The new regulations also fail to recognize the burden of local telecommunications taxes, especially in major cities where tax rates on mobile service are often incredibly high. The new regulations, combined with the laws of local governments, stand to impose even more costs onto consumers.
The outlook the two gave was anything but bright–the worries of small government advocates seem justified. The new FCC regulations will, in concert with other laws and under the directive of an organization looking for future problems rather than current problems, give more power to government, more restrictions to innovators, and more costs to the people.
Commissioner Pai summed it up best: “This issue has been largely fact-free for the better part of a decade, and I think it’s frankly shocking that decision-making on something as important as this has been thrown by the wayside in favor of what I consider to be an ideological agenda.”
The net may be “neutral” but the FCC is most certainly not.
This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.