Acting FCC Chief Calls for Internet Regs in ‘Public Interest’

Published May 1, 2009

In a speech celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Federal Communications Commission and the Communications Act, acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps declared it is time to think “more rigorously” about how the government should regulate the Internet.

In his March speech Copps said he is concerned about the impact of the migration of communications to the Internet and “how to ensure that as the Internet becomes our primary vehicle for communicating with one another, it protects the public interest and informs the civic dialogue that America depends on.”

Ensuring broadcasters serve the public interest has been one of the keys to Copps’s regulatory philosophy. His outlook on regulation, experts agree, is likely to be shared by incoming FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Copps has served on the FCC since 2001.

Experts Alarmed

“Throwing government money toward regulating the Internet may sound like a good idea, but I think it is throwing good money after bad,” said Marsha Egan, president of in Reading, Pennsylvania.

“First of all, the Internet is global, not just contained in the United States, so offshore workarounds will abound,” Egan said. “Second, the Internet is so vast that regulating it is, frankly, an insurmountable task. To properly fund such regulation would be astronomical.”

Egan said the market already regulates the Internet in a way that best serves consumers.

“Let the marketplace regulate itself,” Egan said. “These are businesses that create the programs that enable communication. If these businesses want to stay in business they will need to make the choices that the public wants.

“Let the world regulate its Internet,” Egan added. “The U.S. government should stay out of it.”

Bureaucratic Muscle-Flexing

Bruce Fenton, founder and president of Atlantic Financial Inc., an independent capital management firm based in Norwell, Massachusetts, denounced Copps’s speech as typical bureaucratic bluster.

“Regulators and bureaucrats love to expand their influence and justify their existence at the expense of the people and the taxpayer,” Fenton said. The current economic and tax-revenue crisis in Washington means “we can’t afford” Copps’s idea, he added.

“Do our citizens who are losing jobs and homes in record numbers really want to add billions more in taxpayer costs for the adventures of some FCC regulators?” Fenton asked. “In these economic times, more than ever, we need less FCC regulation—and perhaps none—not more.”

Shifting Views at FCC

Rick Joyce, chairman of the communications group at the Venable law firm in Washington, DC, said Copps’s speech was no surprise. Every time a new administration comes to town, the FCC starts to rethink its mission, he observed.

“This is not an odd thing to hear from any of the commissioners,” Joyce said. “The larger question is whether this shift will occur every time there is a change in the White House. Copps is assuming that it will.”

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.