In late April, FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced at a press conference at the Newseum that his agency would revisit its 2015 determination that Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 gave it broad authority to regulate the Internet, including the ability to scrutinize online content, routine negotiations between firms, and cutting-edge services. The American public will hear howling all summer from D.C., New York, and San Francisco, as tech bloggers, lobbyists, late-night talk-show hosts, and leading newspapers attempt to spin the decision as some kind of corporate giveaway. They would be wise to ignore it, because Chairman Pai’s announcement is welcome news for Congress and anyone who believes that new Internet services and speech online should not require the approval of the nation’s media regulator.
The leading Internet-regulation advocates are outraged that President Trump’s FCC is loosening its grip on the web and restoring oversight to the country’s primary competition and consumer-protection agency, the Federal Trade Commission. They decry the loss of “net neutrality,” a tremendously fuzzy and misunderstood concept. When self-anointed “net neutrality” proponents use the term, they mean far-reaching Internet regulation by the FCC, the so-called Open Internet rules created when broadband service was determined to fall under Title II in 2015.
Young people appear most susceptible to the siren song of the Open Internet rules. Part of the problem is that older generations have not warned them about the FCC’s history as an enemy of free speech and a tool of special interests. I recently spoke to a group of political-science majors about why I opposed FCC regulation of the Internet. To illustrate the pernicious creep of innocent-sounding FCC regulation, I asked how many had heard of the Fairness Doctrine, the erstwhile FCC policy that for decades required radio and TV broadcasters to make “reasonable provision for the discussion of controversial issues.” I expected that most of these politically engaged young people would be familiar with this dark time for free speech. Few raised their hands.
May 5, 2017