Robert M. McDowell: The Turning Point for Internet Freedom

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As regulators weigh imposing net neutrality on the Web, Congress tries to pre-empt government overreach

Robert M. McDowell writes: The Federal Communications Commission is about to answer the most important question in its 80-year history: Does the agency intend to protect the open Internet, or is it lunging to seize unlimited power over the Web? We’ll find out on Feb. 26 when the FCC votes on “net-neutrality” rules that would treat the Internet like a public utility, with regulators potentially setting rates, terms and conditions for providers.

Meanwhile, the new Congress is maneuvering to change the net-neutrality equation, with hearings in the House and Senate beginning Wednesday. Republicans circulated draft bills on Friday to pre-empt the obama_pc_computeFCC’s overreaching new rules while still attaining the White House’s ostensible policy goals. Even congressional supporters of net neutrality, wary of increasing FCC power over something as vast and crucial as the Internet, are working to draft an alternative.

While Republicans and Democrats try to work out a deal, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler should hit the pause button on next month’s vote and let the elected representatives of the American people try to find common ground. At the end of this constitutional process, all sides may be able to claim victory.

“For opponents of new FCC rules, the bills could take Title II off the table; restore regulatory certainty; protect free speech; and create a legal firewall that would protect investment and innovation in the Web’s computer-network infrastructures from more government meddling.”

For years Washington has debated how to keep the Internet open and free from government or private coercion. Regulation proponents have argued that new rules are needed to prevent Internet service providers, such as phone, wireless and cable companies, from blocking or degrading the online content or applications consumers want. Though no market failure exists, and regulators have never conducted a study to diagnose the alleged potential illness, the FCC has twice tried to impose new rules on the Web. Each time it lost in court.

“This would also send a strong signal to foreign governments and international regulatory bodies that they should not smother the Web with antiquated rules designed in an era when people held their phones with two hands.”

The tragedy of this debate is that no one, including phone, wireless and cable companies, has ever contested the goals of keeping the Internet open. It has been open and freedom-enhancing since it was privatized in the mid-1990s because it is protected under existing antitrust and consumer-protection laws. Instead, the fight has been over how much regulatory power the FCC should wield. Read the rest of this entry »


SMIDGEN REPORT UPDATE: ‘Please Delete HealthCare.gov E-mails with White House’

Jillian Kay Melchior writes: During the first week of HealthCare.gov’s troubled launch, Marilyn Tavenner, the chief of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told an agency spokesperson to delete an e-mail exchange with the White House and the Departmentsmdg-tv2 of Health and Human Services, according to new records released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“Right on cue, when the going gets tough, the Obama administration proclaims it can’t find the documents.”

— Committee Chairman Fred Upton

This development comes just a week after CMS’s admission that Tavenner had probably deleted e-mails that may be public record — “in order to stay below the agency’s Microsoft Outlook email size limit,” wrote MSNBC, which broke the story on August 7.

But today’s letter from the House committee to Tavenner says: “One of the e-mails in this production shows that you directed a subordinate to delete an e-mail communication featuring a number of White smidgen-rep-PFaPHouse representatives. This e-mail is an October 5, 2013, communication in which you forwarded a discussion with White House representatives to the Director of Communications for CMS with the message: ‘Please delete this email- but please see if we can work on call script.’”

[Also see – SCRATCH THAT! IRS Tech Said Lerner’s Hard Drive WASN’T Damaged]

The committee concludes: “This contradicts the letter [CMS recently] sent to the National Archives, which explained that your practice was to instruct subordinates to retain copies of e-mails.” Read the rest of this entry »


The Daily Hammer

President Obama’s so-called insurance fix is a scam that was meant to deflect blame from the White House, Charles Krauthammer said Friday night.

TheHammer

“He pretended to want to restore the plans to people who lost them,” Krauthammer said during a panel appearance on Special Report. “Because it is a sham. It was only intended to shift the blame. His intent is for these plans not to be renewed; he knows how impossible it will be.”

Krauthammer said that Obama knew how many insurance companies would refuse to renew canceled policies and how many state insurance commissioners would refuse the fix – ensuring that only a trickle of people re-enrolled in their old plans. However, had Obama not made that move, over 100 Democrats would’ve voted for Representative Fred Upton’s (R., Mich.) bill to extend canceled insurance policies a year.

“That would’ve been a rebellion against him and he would lose, as a second term president, complete control of the party and been a lame-duck less than a year into the second term,” Krauthammer said.

National Review Online


Obama didn’t even consult with insurance providers before dumping his “fix” idea on them

Testing..testing..anyone home? Hello? Mr President...are you there..?

John Hayward reports:  Here’s the beginning of the New York Times story about today’s hour-long emergency meeting between insurance executives and the President:

A day after they were caught off guard by President Obama’s proposal to prevent cancellation of insurance policies for millions of Americans, top executives of some of the biggest insurance companies emerged from a meeting at the White House on Friday, expressing mixed feelings about whether the idea could work in every state.

The hastily called meeting was an attempt by the White House to address the growing frustration of the nation’s insurers over the administration’s fumbling of the health care law. It came just a day after the president announced on television that insurers could now continue coverage for people whose policies were being canceled because they did not meet the new law’s standards.

That’s right, folks – Barack Obama threw out his insurance cancellation “fix”without consulting insurance companies.  He didn’t bother to ask them if it was feasible or nor.  He called industry leaders to the White House a day later to discuss it with them.  According to the Times, many of them “expressed anger that the President had not consulted them before Thursday’s announcement.”  I’ll bet they did.

Read the rest of this entry »


Laws are for the Little People: Sebelius Refuses to Appear at Congressional Hearing

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

 “Listen, it’s cool, just tell them you have a scheduling conflict. I got your back.”  (Photo by Pete Souza)

Kristen Welker, NBC News White House Correspondent, reports:  Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will not testify at a congressional hearing Thursday into breakdowns in the rollout of the federal Affordable Care Act.

An HHS official confirmed Saturday that the secretary would not attend, citing a conflict in her schedule.

“We are in close communication with the committee and have expressed our desire to be responsive to their request,” the official said. Read the rest of this entry »


Congressional fight over Obamacare turns to website woes

IMG_6930The deal ending the shutdown may not have put a dent in Obamacare, but the battle over implementing the health coverage law is not over.

One venue that Republicans are turning to for leverage, starting next week: oversight hearings, beginning with some tough questions about why the rollout of the website for enrolling in health care exchanges is having so many problems.

“The American people deserve to know what caused this mess,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Delays and technical failures have reached epidemic proportions.”

Upton has already asked officials from the Department of Health and Human Services to brief his committee on the problems at a hearing scheduled for next Thursday. He also is asking them to turn over records of their communications with website contractors about the preparations for the site’s launch, and the problems people have had trying to use it.

Read the rest of this entry »


President Obama eyes fee on cellphones to fund Internet wiring efforts at schools

Unwilling to ask Congress for extra funds to pay for high-speed Internet connections in schools, President Obama is instead looking to tack yet another charge on cellphones through the Federal Communications Commission.

The new program, called ConnectED, would expand an existing school-wiring effort and cost each cellphone user about $5 a year, said White House officials.

In New York City, the ubiquitous mobile devices already carry 10 separate city, state and federal fees and charges — and that doesn’t include sales taxes.

Read the rest of this entry »