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July 20, 2017

What 10 Million+ FCC Comments Tells Us

 

The Federal Communications Commission has recorded over 10 million comments from concerned parties in its “Restoring Internet Freedom” proceeding, which overturns the Obama administration’s 2015 move to regulate internet providers.

And, because there is a backlog of comments from the July 17 deadline, that number will probably grow.

Over 10 million comments. To a regulatory agency. That’s impressive.

In a normal FCC proceeding, you would expect only a few hundred comments to be filed—mostly by law firms and subject matter experts, engineers and the like. Because as a specialized technical agency, the FCC normally deals with the technical implementation of policies enacted by Congress.

But clearly a lot of people care enough about this particular proceeding to go to at least some trouble to make a comment, even though most of them are being generated by activist organizations on both sides of the issue. What these organizations do is set up webforms that make it easy to send a pre-written comment to the FCC with just a click or two. That’s why, if you browse the comments, many if not most of them are identically worded.

Now, our views are clear on this topic, as our comments indicate: We think the FCC should overturn the Obama administration’s regulatory power grab over broadband providers. Then Congress, not the FCC, should move net neutrality legislation if it chooses to do so, since Congress, not the FCC, is a democratic, policy-making body.

But we also think that the FCC has, for some time now, amassed far too much power over the internet and communications economy, and 10 million comments suggests that we are right.

People are clearly attempting something that looks very much like a vote with their comments to a regulatory agency, which makes no sense, because regulatory agencies are not democratic, and they are not legislatures. They are not supposed to be making policy, and they are not supposed to respond to majority opinion.

But I would argue that people are, in fact, acting rationally. They see that the FCC is itself making policy—acting like a legislative body—rather than just implementing policies made by Congress, and so they are attempting to influence the process.

Because the FCC HAS been acting as a policy-making body, if not an actual legislative body. By making policy, instead of simply implementing and enforcing policy, the FCC has usurped the role of Congress, and people are responding accordingly.

What 10 million+ FCC comments tells us is not what the FCC should do, because the FCC is not a democracy. What it tells us is that the FCC is doing too much.


 

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