The Corner

Grassroots Awaken to Threat of Internet Regulation

As we’ve seen on health care, cap-and-trade, bailouts, and overspending, thousands of Americans who were previously able to go about their lives without worrying about politics have stepped into the breach to defend a free-market system that’s under assault. Most Americans simply do not support the Obama administration’s attempts to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.”

One issue on which the Left was really supposed to have the grassroots edge is so-called net-neutrality regulation, a top policy priority of the vaunted Netroots. Leading the charge is the Marxist (don’t take my word for it, take theirs) group Free Press, whose goal is to convince government to step in and “free us” from private ownership and control of television, radio, newspapers, and, most important, the Internet.

Earlier this year was crunch time for Free Press and its coalition effort “Save the Internet” (from private ownership, by government, of course), when their goal of net-neutrality regulations was embodied by the FCC in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). Free Press proudly touted that it put 13,000 comments in the docket. My group, Americans for Prosperity, announced that our members had put in over 22,000 comments.

The FCC went into spin mode, led by its press secretary, Jen Howard, whose immediate prior job was as communications director for Free Press. She claimed that 90 percent of the comments submitted supported regulation. On Monday, the FCC closed its “reply comments” on the net-neutrality NPRM. AFP activists put in over 41,000 comments this round, opposing regulation. Activists at the Institute for Liberty (our Internet Freedom Coalition ally) put in another 7,000 anti-regulation comments.

Free Press was silent on its number of comments filed. Instead, they boasted that their broad coalition (a usual-suspects group including “Free Press,, CREDO,, ACLU and hundreds of others”) signed “nearly” 250,000 (unverified) people to petitions urging the FCC to regulate. That might sound like a big number, but considering just one of those groups,, has over 5 million members, it actually shows a very weak intensity level on the left. Consider that Free Press launched its petition drive with a goal of two million signers and they nearly got one eighth of the way there.

This matters more than ever in light of the beating the FCC took in the D.C. Circuit, which recently ruled in Comcast v. FCC that they have no authority to regulate the Internet. The reaction from Free Press et al., who know there is very little stomach in Congress for regulating the Internet, has been to urge the FCC to adopt the so-called nuclear option of, for the first time, classifying broadband Internet access as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the 1996 Act — to regulate the Internet like an old-fashioned, monopoly phone system, with pervasive government control. The efforts to do so rely on a deeply flawed revisionist history of the Internet.

If the FCC insists on listening to the far Left and regulating the Internet like telephones, the millions of Internet users who are just beginning to pay attention will be outraged. And they will demand that Congress step in to stop the Commission, creating yet another explosive issue for November.

Phil Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity.


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