Supreme Court Should Free the Internet from the FCC

Cato comments on Dan Berninger’s Supreme Court petition:

The Federal Communications Commission, at least under previous chairmen, desperately wanted to control the internet. To further this objective, the FCC reversed its prior determination that providing broadband internet access was an “information service,” rather than a “telecommunications service,” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, thereby granting itself more power. The commission also determined that Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 constituted an independent grant of regulatory authority over the internet. Relying on both these interpretations, the FCC then sought to outlaw paid prioritization—to institute “net neutrality”—by issuing a new policy cloaked in an Orwellian title; the “Open Internet Order.”

Despite its label, the order actually had the practical effect of closing the internet to Daniel Berninger’s new start-up, Hello Digital, a social media platform designed to allow users to discuss issues featured on the site in real time. The website’s high-definition voice feature would require that its content be prioritized to function properly, so when the FCC’s order prevented Berninger from paying for that priority, he was left with little choice but to sue. In deciding the case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled for the commission after granting so-called Chevron deference to the FCC’s statutory interpretations. (Under Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, if an agency is charged with administering an ambiguous statute, courts will defer to that agency’s interpretation as long as it is deemed a “permissible construction.”)

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