Last week, I referred obscurely to “folks wanting to install the FCC as the Internet’s regulator,” cautioning that this same Federal Communications Commission is our national censor.
A friendly correspondent points me to an article in Ars Technica about the demand for speech controls coming from the same groups that want the FCC to control the Internet’s infrastructure, groups such as Free Press, the Media Access Project, and Common Cause.
Is there a parry to the charge that this is a demand for censorship? The signatories to the regulatory filing “respectfully request that the FCC … inquire into the extent and effects of hate speech in media, and explore possible non-regulatory ways to counteract its negative impacts.”
The filing does not contain the words “First Amendment” or “free speech.” It means “non-regulatory” the way a cop eyeballing someone and slapping his palm with a billy club is “non-regulatory.”
The FCC is experienced with “non-regulatory” coercion. Hearings in Congress have explored how the agency uses arm-twisting to get what it wants outside of formal regulatory processes. As law professor Lars Noah testified in 1999:
Arm twisting refers to an agency’s use of threats either to impose a sanction or withhold a benefit in hopes of encouraging nominally voluntary compliance with a request that the agency could not impose directly on a regulated entity. This informal method of regulation often saddles parties with more onerous regulatory burdens than Congress had authorized, accompanied by a diminished opportunity to pursue judicial challenges.
An FCC with the power to regulate Internet access services would use it to control Internet content. There’s no place for the FCC in monitoring or administering speech controls, nor in controlling our communications infrastructure, the Internet.