American politicians of all stripes clearly see and oppose the abuses of the Internet abroad. But our government officials are not aware that the Federal Communications Commission, without statutory authority, is proposing to expand its taxation and regulation of the Internet.
The relationship between the Internet and government has become a useful barometer of personal and economic freedom. Oppressive governments use the Internet to oppress political enemies, censor ideas, and spy on citizens. The United Nations and other international organizations see the Internet as an untapped opportunity for tax revenues and regulations to support political favorites.
Of course Congress can and does pass symbolic laws to protect the Internet, such as the recent extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act that prohibits new state and local taxes on broadband access. Congress is eager to block state and local tax collection on the Internet on the reasonable theory that taxes will harm the Internet, one of the few engines of growth in our otherwise recession-prone economy.
Yet Congress is oblivious to Federal Communications Commission efforts to undermine the spirit if not the letter of ITFA by extending substantial new federal fees on broadband access. These fees could be as harmful, if not more so, than any that state and local governments might imagine. Yet many in Congress, unaware of the fees that might be applied to the Internet, applaud the FCC.
Under its “Open Internet” or “network neutrality” proceeding, the FCC would regulate the Internet and broadband service providers with rules similar to those that courts have not once but twice ruled unlawful. By statute, the FCC regulates telecommunications services, not Internet services. Rather than wait for Congress to give it authority to regulate Internet services, the FCC asserts that power for itself by some imaginative interpretation of the Communications Act.