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Worse for Web Freedom: Hugo Chavez or the FCC?

The administration brings the Obamacare touch to the Internet.

by
Seton Motley

Bio

December 20, 2010 - 12:00 am

Amongst many other unpleasant things, Venezuela’s Communist dictator Hugo Chavez is famous for yanking the licenses — and presences — of radio and television stations. He has, in fact, declared open war on all opposition media, silencing nearly any outlet that stands opposed.

This is information control — with Chavez seeking to ensure that no Venezuelan citizen learns anything beyond that which Chavez wants them to know.

Now, he has turned his Sauron eye to the Internet. An information-control bill has been presented to the Venezuelan parliament that includes some Internet regulation. As Reuters reports, the bill

proposes applying limits on content in “electronic media” according to the time of day, with adult content reserved for programing after midnight.

Such limitations already are in place for TV and radio programing. It was not clear how they would be applied to the Internet.

The bill also proposes allowing the government to restrict access to websites if they are found to be distributing messages or information that incite violence against the president.

Even by Venezuelan standards, that last proposition is over the top. Ominous and open-ended, left to the discretion of the enforcer — it’s very Chavez-esque, to be sure.

But how does it stack up against the latest efforts of our own Federal Communications Commission (FCC)?

In the FCC’s employ as its inaugural chief diversity officer is Mark Lloyd — a HAY-YUGE fan of Chavez’s “incredible, democratic revolution,” who loves the way Chavez “began to take very seriously the media in his country.” Which, as we have just seen, is hardly… pleasant.

As we have repeatedly observed of late, the FCC is hurtling towards an Internet power grab that would, it appears, make even Chavez blush. At the very least, Hugo seems to think he should be more democratic about his Web takeover.

Let us again highlight the fact that Chavez is proposing legislation. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has no time for such republican formalities.

The chairman is ramming through an authoritarian, 85-page Web order in last-minute fashion — behind closed doors, unreviewed, without public comment, under cover of Christmas. So will he allow a Democrat Party-line December 21st vote by three unelected bureaucrats to serve as justification for a government appropriation of 1/6th of our economy, and the implementation of the terrible idea that is network neutrality.

This despite the fact that the FCC has zero authority over anything, unless and until Congress writes a law giving them said authority — and Congress has never done that with broadband Internet. It’s a fact Chairman Genachowski knows and readily admits. This is to say nothing of the D.C. Circuit Court, which in April unanimously reminded him (and everyone else) that the FCC doesn’t have the juice.

The power grab sets up the chairman and his commission as overlords of… everything, potentially. If the chairman knows he’s not supposed to lord over the Internet and he does it anyway, what’s to stop him from later declaring his intent to lord over anything else? Everything else?

And from all we’ve heard, the chairman’s Web usurpation goes way beyond where the comparatively mild-mannered Chavez is trying to get with his legislation. I say all we’ve heard, because Captain Transparency — I mean Chairman Genachowski — won’t make public what he intends to do.

It all comes in the wake of his Day One proclamation that his FCC would be “fair, open and transparent” — and his once-upon-a-time description of his net neutrality emplacement process (which has now become a Congress-free rewrite of communications law):

I will ensure that the rulemaking process will be fair, transparent, fact-based, and data-driven. Anyone will be able to participate in this process, and I hope everyone will. We will hold a number of public workshops and, of course, use the Internet and other new media tools to facilitate participation. Today we’ve launched a new website, www.OpenInternet.gov, to kick off discussion of the issues I’ve been talking about. We encourage everyone to visit the site and contribute to the process.

What we are now being force fed represents none of this. This process is unfair, shrouded in mystery, willfully ignorant of the obvious facts, and thoroughly data-averse. Virtually no one has been able to participate. Instead, there is a brand-new, 85-page order — unposted on OpenInternet.gov, public workshops unheld, public comment period disallowed.

The latest layer of bureaucratic sludge to be slopped on top was a 2,000+ page document dump at the absolute last moment — a massive, last-minute filing that makes the process yet more opaque. It is patently absurd to accept an addition to the record of that size, this close to the vote date, and expect anyone — inside or outside the FCC — to pore over the thing in time.

This — all of this — is the rough FCC equivalent of Congress filing the 2,400+ page ObamaCare bill and demanding a vote on it two days later. Chairman Genachowski might as well paraphrase outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: we have to pass the order, and all the attending filings, so that you can find out what is in it.

We on the right routinely, rightly lambaste Hugo Chavez and his Marxist thug-ocracy — just as we regularly castigate Europe for diet versions of Chavez policies. But of late we have seen Europe pull back from Internet regulatory oblivion. And we’re now seeing Chavez engage the legislative process while our unelected bureaucrats are rushing to eschew it. Chavez could practically be said to be seeking far less statutory harm than our FCC is dead set on doing.

Being to the left of Scandinavia and France is bad enough. If we are now beyond the bounds of Hugo Boss — just how far from the path have we strayed?

Seton Motley is a writer, activist, commentator, consultant, political/policy strategist, lecturer, and the president of Less Government, an organization dedicated to, well, less government. Including protecting the First Amendment from governmental assault. He's also editor in chief of StopNetRegulation.org, a project of the Center for Individual Freedom.
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