The Great Internet Power Grab
The era of open innovation can be dated to 1971, when teenager Steve Jobs and his engineer friend Steve Wozniak became “phone phreaks.” They sold kits to create routing tones spoofing government-regulated phones into making free long-distance calls. Evading the absurdly high prices that federal regulators set for AT&T calls felt like civil disobedience. The same spirit of disruptive innovation led them to found Apple.
Last week Washington abandoned open innovation when the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission yielded to President Obama ’s demands and moved to regulate the freewheeling Internet under the same laws that applied to the Ma Bell monopoly. Unless these reactionary regulations are stopped, they spell the end of the permissionless innovation that built today’s Internet.
Until now, anyone could launch new websites, apps and mobile devices without having to lobby a regulator for permission. That was thanks to a Clinton-era bipartisan consensus that the Internet shouldn’t be treated as a public utility. Congress and the White House under both parties kept the FCC from applying the hoary regulations that micromanaged the phone system, which would have frozen innovation online.
Last week’s announcement from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler rejects 20 years of open innovation by submitting the Internet to Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Once Mr. Wheeler and the commission’s Democratic majority vote this month to apply Title II, the regulations will give them staggering control. Any Internet “charges” and “practices” that the bureaucrats find “unjust or unreasonable is declared to be unlawful.”