(Daily Caller)—One of the great triumphs of the internet and smart phone revolution has been how rapidly access to these communication technologies have spread to nearly every office building, home, and school in America.
It’s a miracle of private sector innovation and the magic of the free enterprise system that technologies that were only the play things of the super-rich a generation ago are now so ubiquitous that almost all of the poorest Americans have access — and even many of the poorest people in the most remote villages in Africa have smart phones.
Consider the lightning speed of deployment: home internet access reached half of Americans in 2000. Now it’s 92%. Today 19 out of 20 households have home access to the internet on their smart phones. Nearly nine of ten homes have broadband access.
No other technology — not cars, not radio, TV, cable TV, air conditioning — has been made so universally available at affordable prices to the masses so quickly.
Does this sound like a market that needs assistance from the government?
If you answered yes, you also probably believe that Al Gore invented the internet.
This didn’t happen by accident. In part it was due to smart public policy decisions made many years ago. Former congressman Chris Cox, who wrote the first bipartisan law in the 1990s to accelerate internet deployment, explains the successful strategy: “We achieved this rapid deployment by keeping internet regulation free and lawsuit free.” Bill Clinton, who was the president at the time, deserves credit too.
But now the Biden Administration — which never saw an industry it didn’t want to regulate and control — has deputized the Federal Communications Commission to police the internet. They are doing so under the guise of “preventing digital discrimination.”
It’s a preposterous claim because almost all blacks and Hispanics now HAVE internet and cell phones.
But to solve a fictitious problem, in 2021 Biden jammed through a Democratic Congress the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. That absurd bill appropriated $65 billion to help expand access to high-speed Internet — even though nearly everyone already had it.
But when the government regulators get involved in an industry — they don’t improve it — they find ways to strangle it. A good example was the so-called Net Neutrality law that socialized broadband hookup. That only effect of stalling out deployment and when the Trump administration repealed those rules, households had access to improved and speedier downloading capabilities.
Biden and the Democrats in Congress couldn’t resist playing the race card. The new law instructed the FCC to ensure that the billions in federal spending also “facilitate equal access” to the Internet.
The FCC lawyers then chose a standard known as “disparate impact,” which means if they can find a minority neighborhood somewhere at any time that lacks the same internet access as a high-income area, they can slap the telecom companies with a lawsuit. You can almost hear the trial lawyers drooling.
The accusers don’t even have to prove any intent to discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. These threats of lawsuits will inhibit — not spread internet access.
As an example of the unfairness of this policy, if a telecom provider offered a new service, but not enough members of a protected group sign up for the service, the FCC could impose a multi-million dollar fine and require the company to fix the inequities.
But this is a fishing expedition because the government can’t show any discrimination so far to punish. Don’t take my word for it. The FCC openly admits in its 235-page filing released in November that they could find “little or no evidence” of “intentional discrimination by industry participants.” And they found no evidence that discrimination “contributes to disparities in access to broadband internet service across the Nation.”
This would be like the government suing appliance stores for not selling enough TVs to blacks and Hispanics.
FCC commissioner Brendan Carr warns that Biden’s FCC has been given the authority to second guess every aspect of an Internet service provider’s operations, from network maintenance and installation to everyday business operations such as pricing and marketing.
In other words, the Democrats want to turn the internet into a regulated utility to oversee “access, content and pricing.” This will work about as well as airline regulations in the 1970s and health care regulations in the 2000s — both of which raised consumer prices and limited access.
Don’t be surprised if some of the telecom companies decide it’s not worth the threat of lawsuits and regulatory penalties and opt not to participate in expanding internet and broadband access. And in that case the poor and minorities will truly have reason to complain. That’s what always happens when government tries to fix things that don’t need fixing.
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Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a co-founder of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. His latest book is: “Govzilla: How the Relentless Growth of Government Is Devouring Our Economy.”
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