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GUEST COLUMN: Chairman Ajit Pai is draining the FCC swamp

By: Timothy H. Lee
May 26, 2017 Updated: May 26, 2017 at 9:47 am
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If you're wondering where the Washington, D.C., swamp is being drained as promised, look no further than the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and intrepid new Chairman Ajit Pai.

For eight long years, the Obama administration circumvented our deliberative democratic process to impose laws via administrative fiat and his infamous "pen and phone."

And no agency illustrated that malfeasance more than the FCC, where former Chairman Tom Wheeler rammed through partisan policies and midnight regulations of dubious legality, often suffering the wrath of an unamused judicial branch for its shenanigans.

Chief among those Obama FCC misdeeds was its relentless and ongoing effort to impose "Net Neutrality" regulatory control over the internet sector by reclassifying it as a "public utility" under laws enacted in the 1930s for copper-wire telephone lines.

If that leaves you perplexed about how the internet was so broken it required the heavy-handed bureaucratic "fix" of reclassifying it as a public utility under Depression-era statutes, there's a very good reason for that. The internet wasn't broken. It had flourished and transformed our lives like no other innovation in human history.

But to the Obama administration and the activist political left, "Net Neutrality" was never about fixing something broken - it was about extending government control over another sector of our economy.

In their most innocuous form, Net Neutrality rules prevent internet providers from blocking access to lawful websites or slowing down competitors traffic. No one objects to that. But no internet provider would do that, either, because any provider that blocked websites would quickly lose its customers.

And more ominously, neutrality activists further demand that all internet traffic be treated identically and seek a general rule against any kind of differentiated treatment of traffic online. That may sound harmless enough in the abstract. But in the real world, it jeopardizes internet service and the continuing innovation needed to address ever-increasing network traffic and capacity crunches.

After all, bandwidth hogs like YouTube and Netflix whose content makes up half of American internet use at peak hours impose enormous costs and challenges on network providers. They don't want innovative solutions to defray these costs, preferring a purely "neutral" world where networks must treat them exactly the same as the small neighborhood restaurant that consumes very little bandwidth.

Nevertheless, Obama's FCC went ahead with these "Title II" regulations and confidently expected to advance its hyperpartisan regulatory agenda even further under a Hillary Clinton administration. But then fate intervened, and Donald Trump interrupted their march.

Along with judicial appointments, tax policy and other regulatory issues, Trump immediately charted an alternative, more sensible course at the FCC by appointing free-market stalwart Ajit Pai as chairman.

Already, Chairman Pai is justifying his appointment by returning regulatory sanity and restoring a badly needed "light touch" approach to the FCC. And now reports indicate he wisely plans to pull back the flawed utility regulations and revisit the question of net neutrality.

But the far left and crony capitalists won't go down without a fight. These fringe voices will demonize Chairman Pai and falsely claim that repealing the flawed utility rules make it impossible to protect the internet - ignoring the fact that Congress is the proper body to consider and enact internet standards, not a rogue agency seeking to expand its charter.

Voters said they wanted the federal swamp drained. At the FCC, that process is well underway.

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Timothy H. Lee is senior vice president of legal and public affairs at the Center for Individual Freedom (www.cfif.org).

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