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Left, Too, Now Freaking out over Net Neutrality

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The left-leaning ‘Electronic Frontier Foundation’ (EFF) came out with “guns-a-blazin‘” Wednesday morning at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in an open letter: “Dear FCC: Rethink The Vague “General Conduct” Rule.”

After advocating that the Internet come under the same telecommunication rules established in the 1930s to control the old AT&T monopoly, EFF now seems shocked that the FCC is positioned to take advantage of its expanded regulatory reach to allow arrogant bureaucrats to build empires by “giving an unfair advantage to parties with insider influence.”

The EFF has been working for the last two years with a coalition of advocates to persuade the FCC to adopt new “Open Internet Rules” that supposedly “protect” personal freedoms for Internet use and content. The EFF in July rallied its base during the FCC “comment period” to share their views regarding what should be the goals and limitations for a new FCC policy on Net Neutrality.

The EFF aruged that the FCC has a regulatory role to play to assure that big corporate entities are not empowered to wield dictatorial power to unfairly limit Internet access, use and content. It supported the concept that the FCC should reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service and take authority over an “Open Internet.”

But the EFF is now sounding the alarm after learning two weeks ago that the Obama Administration’s FCC appointees intend to empower big government with a new dictatorial regulatory “provision that sounds like a recipe for overreach and confusion: the so-called general conduct rules.”

The EFF points out that according to the FCC’s own “Fact Sheet”, the proposed rules will allow the FCC to review, and presumably punish, non-neutral practices that may “harm” consumers and “edge providers.” The EFF said it had filed a letter with the FCC late last week as the final public comment period expired to urge the FCC clarify and sharply limit the scope of any “general conduct” provision:

[T]he Commission should use its Title II authority to engage in light-touch regulation, taking great care to adhere to clear, targeted, and transparent rules. A “general conduct rule,” applied on a case-by- case basis with the only touchstone being whether a given practice “harms” consumers or edge providers, may lead to years of expensive litigation to determine the meaning of “harm” (for those who can afford to engage in it). What is worse, it could be abused by a future Commission to target legitimate practices that offer significant benefits to the public…

Accordingly, if the Commission intends to adopt a “general conduct rule” it should spell out, in advance, the contours and limits of that rule, and clarify that the rule shall be applied only in specific circumstances.

The EFF is especially concerned by a recent report from Reuters that under the “general conduct rule”, the FCC will evaluate “harm” based on consideration of seven factors: 1) impact on competition; 2) impact on innovation; 3) impact on free expression; 4) impact on broadband deployment and investments; 5) whether the actions are specific to some applications and not others and; 6) whether they comply with industry best standards and practices; 7) and whether they take place without the awareness of the end-user.

The EFF seems now to share the same fears regarding the impending FFCC regulatory overreach that have panicked conservatives into open rebellion. A “general conduct rule,” could serve as an expansive hunting license for all types of government-sponsored political mischief in limiting Internet access, use and content.

America has had a horrible experience when arrogant bureaucrats build empires by “giving an unfair advantage to parties with insider influence” to determine what are regulatorily acceptable as “industry best standards and practices.”

The left-leaning EFF naively trusted the FCC to behave benevolently as it extended regulatory control over the Internet. It is now having second thoughts about the monster it may have helped create.


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