President Barack Obama released a statement this week urging the FCC to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.” In particular, he urged the Commission to unilaterally assert authority over Internet providers under Title II of the Communications Act, which allows for the regulation of “common carriers” as public utilities. Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, spoke out against such increased government control over the Internet, and suggested the Executive Branch should seek Congressional approval for any new authority in this sphere that has been left to grow largely free from government interference.
“Free speech and free enterprise are the bedrock of the Internet,” stated Dr. Johnson. “This federal power grab being advocated by President Obama is, unfortunately, right in line with others by this Administration. It sends a particularly poor signal to communist China, where he is visiting this week.”
President Obama raised the point that broadband providers shouldn’t “be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online.” One of his “bright-line rules” was that if online “content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it.”
Dr. Johnson agreed that “the President does have a valid concern that providers not block legal online content that they do not prefer or like.” In line with NRB’s work through the John Milton Project for Free Speech, Dr. Johnson added, “Indeed, I would challenge him to consider that ‘edge providers’ like Facebook also should not engage in viewpoint censorship.”
Dr. Johnson then emphasized, “However, he is very wrong to insist that the FCC unilaterally assume heavy-handed Title II authority over the Internet. If the FCC feels it needs such power, the Executive Branch should ask Congress for it, and see what the people’s representatives permit. That is how our Republic works.”
In its public filing last summer with the FCC on this net neutrality proceeding, NRB stated (emphasis added):
We believe that the Commission has sufficient, though narrow, authority under section 706, as well as ancillary jurisdiction under Title I of the Communications Act of 1934, to provide an adequate basis for limited, restrained jurisdiction; but asserting jurisdiction under Title II with its heavy hand of telecommunications regulations is ill-advised….Moreover, we believe that this narrow range of FCC authority should be fixed on two objectives: (1) fostering competitive, free enterprise innovation regarding Internet services, applications, and devices, and (2) promoting the values of free speech, free exercise of religion, and a free press for citizen user-generated content that is transmitted over the Internet.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: November 14, 2014