Lakely Statement on FCC Net Neutrality

Published October 23, 2009

James G. Lakely, co-director of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute’s Center on the Digital Economy and managing editor of InfoTech & Telecom News, offered the following comments on the FCC’s Thursday, October 22, 2009 meeting to began the process of codifying net neutrality principles as enforceable rules.

You may quote from his statement below or contact him directly at [email protected], 626-421-9414.


“The FCC today began to walk down a dangerous regulatory path–one that imperils the freedom and innovation on the Internet that Americans cherish but largely take for granted. Let there be no mistake: The FCC is trying to grab for itself the authority to serve as gatekeeper and master of every bit of data that flows over the Internet.

“The movement to codify net neutrality principles as official FCC rules has nothing to do with preserving and maintaining a ‘free’ and ‘open’ Internet, because the status quo already achieves that end. Consumers, regulating with their freedom to choose, quickly punish Internet service providers (ISPs) that degrade their online experience. A panel of unaccountable bureaucrats cannot hope to correct bad policies more efficiently than the market. Indeed, there was no evidence presented at the meeting to prove market forces aren’t working.

“FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s proposal would create a regime in which ISPs and content providers would essentially have to ask ‘Mother may I?’ before making the slightest change in policy, lest they run afoul of the commission’s vague definition of ‘reasonable management practices.’ This level of regulatory uncertainty will serve only to suppress the innovation and investment that have made the Internet the wonder of the modern age.

“Americans can take little solace in Genachowski’s promise that he intends to regulate only where necessary. The very nature of federal bureaucracies is to continually grab more power to justify their existence. Genachowski’s well-meaning but foolhardy attempt to play ‘good cop’ on the Web will inevitably lead to a ‘bad cop’ situation where all sorts of Internet ‘crimes’ must be stopped.

“It is a little surprising to see Genachowski continue to push this policy so aggressively while bipartisan opposition to net neutrality in Congress is growing. Did he not read the letter 72 House Democrats sent to him just last week? It reflected a legitimate concern on the part of the people’s representatives that the chairman’s plan threatens to choke off vital investment in the tech sector.

“The good news is that this is but step one of a long process. Genachowski’s desire to set up his net neutrality regime can’t be fulfilled until late spring in 2010. There is still plenty of time for him to listen to the public and Congress, come to his senses, and pull back.”