Free-Market Group Asks Federal Court for Retrial on ‘Net Neutrality’ Case

Published August 10, 2016

In the wake of a federal court ruling upholding a federal government agency’s decision to expand its powers, a nonpartisan public policy think tank is asking the court to rehear the case.

In June 2016, two out of three judges on a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did not violate the law when it expanded its powers. FCC commissioners voted on February 26, 2015, to regulate internet service providers as utility companies, claiming authority under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

TechFreedom, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, filed a petition in late July asking the full 11-member court to rehear the case. The petition claims FCC improperly exceeded the authority granted to it by Congress and is not constitutionally authorized to rewrite U.S. laws.

Outdated Regulatory Model

Tom Struble, policy counsel for TechFreedom, a nonpartisan public policy think tank focusing on digital issues, says the court’s June decision allows government bureaucrats to party like it’s 1934.

“The Title II regulations go back to 1934, under the ‘Ma Bell–AT&T model’ of a common carrier throughout the country,” Struble said. “So, you have heavy-handed regulations to prevent a monopoly provider from pricing that hurts consumers. Basically, you have a lot of regulatory baggage under Title II that goes back to the early 20th century and even before that, with railroad regulations. Most of the common carrier regulations came from that.”

‘Regulated and Controlled’

Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment, a nonprofit group dedicated to restoring and protecting free-market values, says government regulators are invested in treating internet service providers under rules developed for older technologies.

“The argument is that internet service should be regulated and controlled like your electric or water or sewer service, rather than in a competitive free market,” Kerpen said. “That concept has a lot of purchase on the left, but if you look around at the state of government-controlled infrastructure, there are so many examples of waste, mismanagement, and failure. That’s because a government-owned or government-regulated model lacks market discipline and competition.”

Kerpen says net neutrality has always been about increasing the power of government.

“This whole debate has moved so far from the idea of preventing phone and cable companies from blocking or throttling access to certain sites, which no company does and Republicans have offered to prohibit legislatively as a compromise,” Kerpen said. “Now, it’s about applying a Depression-era regulatory framework designed for the old ‘Ma Bell’ telephone monopoly. It’s crazy.”