This Thing All Things Devours

On February 26th, a five-member panel of FCC commissioners will vote on adopting a plan to apply government regulation to various aspects of the operation of the Internet. This will undoubtedly have far-reaching effects — and given the scale of the Federal government, of the Internet, and of the conflicting interests that will be affected, there can also be no doubt that many of the consequences will be adverse, unintended, and costly in ways that the consumer will have to bear, and that the whole thing will be a bonanza for lawyers, lobbyists, and political grifters.

The plan originated in a 332-page recommendation emanated by the White House. The panel consists of three Democrats and two Republicans, which means the proposal will almost certainly be approved. That the scheme is bitterly divisive, however, is made clear by two “fact sheets” released by the FCC: one by Chairman Thomas Wheeler, which sings the plan’s praises (“Protecting the Open Internet“), and another by Commissioner Ajit Pai, which lists its drawbacks (“President Obama’s Plan to Regulate the Internet“). (Read them and see for yourself. They are brief.)

Apparently Chairman Wheeler and his masters have sought to prevent Congressional interference by invoking Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 as justification for extending Federal regulation to the Internet. They have also refused to make the full text of the plan available to the public, or even to Congress.

Regardless of how you may feel about “Net Neutrality”, you should reflect on how this thing is being done: the sovereign arm of the State is to be spread over the untamed vastness of the Internet, based on a 332-page plan that nobody is allowed to see. To circumvent any interference by Congress, it will be done by piggybacking the new regulations on a Federal statute dating back to the Roosevelt administration. The adoption of this plan will grant, to the lumbering Federal leviathan, regulatory control over the fastest-evolving, and arguably the most pervasive, aspect of modern life, and in doing so it will set a crucial precedent for further expansions of government authority. There will be titanic legal battles about the interpretation of the new rules, and the extent of their reach. Great swathes of currently unregulated activity will suddenly be subject to the whims and shifting moods of unelected bureaucrats, and to the intrigues of occult Congressional skulduggery. The thicket of regulations will swiftly become impenetrable, and to ensure compliance, corporations will need to retain the services of entirely new orders of the Washington priesthood. This clerisy will consist of those former agency and Congressional staffers who will have written the new regulations, and will be the only people who actually understand them. As always, they will have taken care to make their rules bewilderingly ramified and opaque, and supervenient upon even deeper layers of administrative and legislative macaronics, in order that no service provider will ever be able to know whether it is obeying the law without consulting these ecclesiastics at ransomous expense. All of this will stifle innovation, and will give a competitive edge to big corporations over smaller, independent players who will no longer be able to muster the cost of compliance. Thousands of entrepreneurial ventures will simply never come into existence. Businesses that do manage to cope with the new regulatory environment will foist their higher costs onto you and me. And all of this is to be brought into effect by a 3-2 majority on a panel of unelected functionaries, accountable to nobody.

In an age of exponentially accelerating technological innovation and disruption, where successful and responsive organizations are increasingly flexible, scalable, nimble, lightweight, and agile (see my friend Salim Ismail’s new book and website devoted to this subject), we are now going to put the sclerotic, nerveless and morbidly obese United States Government in charge of the Internet.



  1. RealGarySeven says

    Whenever this happens, we exit…

    Posted February 17, 2015 at 2:31 am | Permalink
  2. JK says

    I’ve been tempted to send unto you a little Internet “prodding” Malcolm, ever since you left the hint “net neutrality” is a bad idea, and will explain why later” on the 9th.

    But ‘knowing’ you I figured …

    At any rate I expect your sitemeter to register “two hits” emanating from DC.

    If those two hits do not occur – lemme know. I know my Representative’s and Senator’s phone numbers.

    Posted February 17, 2015 at 2:52 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says


    Actually, I never even got around to the merits and demerits of “Net Neutrality” itself. I think that’s a bad idea, too, mostly for free-market reasons, but all of that is trumped by the concerns I wrote about in the post.

    There’s more I might have said. Maybe a little follow-up post is in order.

    Posted February 17, 2015 at 10:25 am | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says


    We ‘exit’? How so? (Perhaps you meant that whenever I write one of these fulminating posts, readers bail…)

    Posted February 17, 2015 at 10:26 am | Permalink
  5. JK says

    Malcolm, as I’m sure you’re absolutely sure, where all this computer-stuff is concerned I’m one of the bottom feeders, lost in the muck I do somehow manage to swirl enveloping me.

    I simply needed somebody to fire a flare.

    Posted February 17, 2015 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
  6. JK says

    I am hard pressed to think of a society in such internal decline that has turned itself around, and I cannot imagine how ours might do so. One sure thing is that, once the internet is gelded, there will be no hope at all. And the assault has begun.

    Posted February 21, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

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