L. Gordon Crovitz on the Wall Street Journal: The permissionless Internet, which allows anyone to introduce a website, app or device without government review, ends this week. On Thursday the three Democrats among the five commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission will vote to regulate the Internet under rules written for monopoly utilities
No one, including the bullied FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, thought the agency would go this far. The big politicization came when President Obama in November demanded that the supposedly independent FCC apply the agency’s most extreme regulation to the Internet. A recent page-one Wall Street Journal story headlined “Net Neutrality: How White House Thwarted FCC Chief” documented “an unusual, secretive effort inside the White House . . . acting as a parallel version of the FCC itself.”
Mr. Obama’s role raises legal as well as political questions. Those harmed by the new rules could argue in court that political pressure made the agency’s actions “arbitrary and capricious.”
The more than 300 pages of new regulations are secret, but Mr. Wheeler says they will subject the Internet to the key provisions of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, under which the FCC oversaw Ma Bell.
Title II authorizes the commission to decide what “charges” and “practices” are “just and reasonable”—an enormous amount of discretion. Former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell has found 290 federal appeals court opinions on this section and more than 1,700 FCC administrative interpretations.
Defenders of the Obama plan claim that there will be regulatory “forbearance,” though not from the just-and-reasonable test. They also promise not to regulate prices, a pledge that Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has called “flat-out false.” He added: “The only limit on the FCC’s discretion to regulate rates is its own determination of whether rates are ‘just and reasonable,’ which isn’t much of a restriction at all.”