Worse for Web Freedom: Hugo Chavez or the FCC?

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.