Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) sent out an email today suggesting that WiFi is threatened by the Google-Verizon “deal” on ‘net neturality regulation.
The Google-Verizon framework was written so as not to apply to wireless Internet services,” says Franken. “If you use wi-fi or access the Internet on your phone, this is a serious problem.
This doesn’t exhibit a basic understanding of the technologies. WiFi is a wireless technology, but it’s not what they’re talking about when they say “wireless.” They’re talking about the communications services provided by wireless carriers. iPhones switch back and forth between AT&T’s service and WiFi pretty seamlessly, so the error is forgiveable—unless, say, you’re someone who claims authority to regulate these technologies.
But perhaps Senator Franken does not hold himself out as having that authority. What struck me about the missive is Senator Franken’s somewhat inverted take on power arrangements in the federal government:
This evening, I’ll be speaking at an FCC hearing in Minneapolis. I’ll urge the commissioners to reject the Google-Verizon framework, stop the Comcast/NBC merger, and take action to keep the Internet free and open.
Folks, Article I, section 1 of the United States Constitution creates the United States Senate, with section 3 describing the Senate’s makeup and some procedures.
The Federal Communications Commission is not a constitutional body. The best view is that Congress has no authority to establish an FCC like we have today. The better view is that Congress should not maintain the sprawling FCC we have today. And the only correct view is that FCC is a creation of Congress, beneath it in every relevant respect.
Senator Franken is supposed to oversee the FCC, not act as a supplicant, “urging” it to do x, y, and z.
Does it matter a lot? No. Senator Franken is mostly making a symbolic appeal to gin up constituent support. But he’s also symbolizing the abasement of the legislative branch to an independent agency that has no constitutional pedigree.
Cato’s Constitution Day conference is September 16th. Obvious issues like “Senator or Independent Agency: Who is the Boss of Whom?” won’t be on the docket….