The net neutrality crack-up

“The net neutrality crack-up” is the headline put by the Wall Street Journal over Holman Jenkins’s column on the FCC production of this past week. If you can’t access the column directly, you can access it indirectly here via Google. As long as we’re on the subject, let’s continue with the conclusion of Jenkins’s column:

Which brings us to the pusillanimous Tom Wheeler. We don’t use the adjective lightly.

Let’s be absolutely clear about something. The Federal Communications Commission chief did not go to President Obama and say, “We at the FCC have studied the issue and concluded that utility regulation is necessary to assure net neutrality.”

Nothing like this happened. Mr. Wheeler was still trying to head off utility regulation when Mr. Obama, after election day, suddenly announced his support for what previously had been an extreme regulatory agenda. In one of many ludicrous ironies, Mr. Wheeler had just successfully romanced a core of the Obama political coalition—including the Rev. Jesse Jackson —to oppose utility regulation of the Internet. In a little-noticed, bizarro-world circumstance, the NAACP, the National Urban League, Rev. Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH and several other civil-rights groups are still rhetorically committed to fighting the White House on Title II.

Conspiracy theorists will have to put aside any idea that utility treatment was the secret objective of Mr. Obama and Mr. Wheeler from the get-go. Mr. Wheeler was blindsided too. It appears that Mr. Obama simply decided, after Democrats’ defeat in the midterm elections, that he would spend the last two years of his presidency catering to left-wing groups. If this had been a plan from the start, he and Mr. Wheeler never would have arranged events so as to portray the FCC chief as the White House’s quivering lap dog. Mr. Wheeler didn’t just flip-flop on utility regulation. He collapsed like a bag of air.

The FCC chief has been lying strenuously about all this for weeks, and perhaps may yet be rewarded with an ambassadorship or some other plum. But the original “Progressives” had higher aspirations when they created the idea of the independent regulatory agency. The FCC’s rule-making process is supposed to be deliberative and strictly defined by law (which is why its net-neut order will now be eminently appealable). It simply is not true that any FCC chairman in Mr. Wheeler’s position would have yielded to a policy diktat from the White House. An FCC chief with true “progressive” spine would have made it his top priority to protect his agency from improper political manipulation.

As I say in the earlier post, everything about this is wrong, including the packaging in the label of “net neutrality.”

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