News & Politics

FCC Looking for Power Grab on Broadband

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

If you wonder, as I do sometimes, how the federal government got so big and intrusive in the last few decades, here is a prime example of how easy it is to grow an agency.

The Federal Communications Commission has been tasked by Congress to write a report every year on the spread of broadband in the country. The survey is fairly innocuous — until you realize that it can easily be turned into a blueprint for FCC overreach.

Internet service providers in areas of the country — especially rural areas — that do not offer wired broadband access can be targeted by the FCC for special regulation, forcing the companies to build broadband infrastructure to offer the service to consumers.

The Hill:

A proposed draft of the congressionally mandated report finds that advanced telecommunications capability isn’t being deployed in a “reasonable and timely fashion” to all Americans. According to a fact sheet released by the agency, 34 million Americans do not have access to wired internet service that meets the FCC’s definition of broadband — download speeds of 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 Mbps.

The commission also found that the divide between rural and urban Americans when it comes to broadband access persists. Thirty-nine percent of rural residents don’t have access to wired broadband, according to the report
“To maximize the benefits of broadband for the American people, we not only need to facilitate innovation in areas like public safety and civic engagement, but also to make sure all Americans have advanced communications capabilities,” said commission Chairman Tom Wheeler in a blog post. “The Commission has a statutory mandate to assess and report annually on whether broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

But critics say the report isn’t just a compendium of statistics, but a way for the FCC to expand its authority and place arbitrary standards on Internet service providers.

The commission is authorized to take steps to expand access when the annual report finds it lacking, which critics contend turns the report into a tool for amassing more authority.

The FCC sparked controversy when it raised the benchmark speeds for wired broadband to their current levels last year and forced Internet providers to rethink their offerings.

That decision seems certain to loom over the commission’s discussion on Thursday about the latest iteration of the report.

“It’s bad enough the FCC keeps moving the goal posts on their definition of broadband, apparently so they can continue to justify intervening in obviously competitive markets,” said Jim Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs, in a statement earlier this month.“It’s beginning to look like the FCC will define broadband whichever way maximizes its power under whichever section of the law they want to apply.”

Without additional authorization from Congress, the FCC is redefining its mandate to expand its power. When you consider most other agencies and departments do the same thing (the EPA being the biggest transgressor), it’s easy to see how effortlessly the power and reach of government expands.

The culture of the bureaucracy has to change. It’s a manager’s job to increase their agency’s responsibilities by asking for more money in the budget and, as the FCC did, redefining their regulatory role. When “success” for a bureaucrat is measured in this way, everyone loses.

Also, Congress can take much greater care in drawing up new legislation. Government administrators have too much leeway to define what Congress is trying to do. We see this constantly from the IRS, which sometimes completely ignores congressional intent and does what it wants to do.

Repealing legislation and striking down regulations is only half the battle. An earthquake has to hit Washington and fundamental changes made to the very notion of government’s role in society. It’s the challenge of the century and if we don’t meet it, what liberty we have left will be gone.