For over a decade, professional liberal organizers and agitators – backed by a tidal wave of big liberal foundations and Silicon Valley corporate money – have told a bizarre scare story that without heavy-handed government regulation, Internet service providers (ISPs) will start blocking what websites you can go to and impeding free speech on the Internet. No such thing happened in the approximately two decades that ISPs were unregulated “information services” under the 1996 Telecom Act. Indeed, the opposite occurred as robust competition between phone and cable companies – and later wireless companies – drove speeds dramatically higher and consumers benefited from an Internet that innovated beyond our wildest dreams.
Nonetheless, in 2015, ultraliberal advocacy groups (fueled by $196 million from the Soros and Ford Foundations) and Silicon Valley giants like Google (which cycled a shocking 250 personnel through the Obama administration and saw regulating ISPs as a way to guarantee themselves access to below-market rate downstream bandwidth for their YouTube unit) succeeded in getting the FCC to reclassify ISPs as regulated public utilities. This was done under a Depression-era law designed for the old Ma Bell telephone monopoly. Thousands of complaints to potentially micromanage every aspect of the Internet piled up at the FCC Enforcement Bureau and the commission was set to adopt a sweeping new broadband tax to replace the private investment it scared off – with strings attached of course – during a Hillary Clinton administration.
The liberal organizers of the phony net neutrality scare campaign had even bigger plans; Robert McChesney, the founder of Free Press – the group that was cited 46 times in the Obama net neutrality order – openly bragged: “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.”
If that’s too subtle for you, McChesney also said: “In the end, there is no real answer but to remove brick by brick the capitalist system itself, rebuilding the entire society on socialist principles.”
None of it was meant to be.
The American people elected Donald Trump, and President Trump elevated free-market champion Ajit Pai to be FCC chairman and undo the mischief the Obama FCC had done before it could reach its ultimate goals.
Chairman Pai is soon expected to unveil his plan to undo the Obama order and replace it with a light-touch approach that centers on competition and consumer protection and allows government intervention only when there is actual consumer harm – not just scare stories. And in a refreshing break from the usual pattern of regulators accruing to themselves as much power as possible, the Pai plan will probably relinquish authority from his own agency to the Federal Trade Commission, which has far better expertise in consumer protection and competition issues.
To the well-funded groups on the left that created the phony net neutrality issue as a pretext for a government takeover of the Internet, any step back will be unacceptable and the apocalyptic rhetoric will flow like water. They will again have hundreds of millions of dollars and massive platforms from the Silicon Valley giants like Google that supported the Obama regulations. And the liberal media will happily jump on board every vicious smear and lie to tarnish Chairman Pai and President Trump and try to spook Congress into reversing course. Some conservatives may be tempted to simply ride the tide of fake outrage. But that can only lead to McChesney’s ultimate goal of total government control. On this issue, conservatives in Washington D.C. must do what they were elected to do: stand and fight. And win.
Phil Kerpen is head of American Commitment and a leading free-market policy analyst and advocate in Washington.