Documents made public yesterday by Judicial Watch describe extensive collusion by Federal Communications Commission officials with a left-wing advocacy group in a campaign to expand government regulation of the Internet.
The documents, obtained by Judicial Watch in a December 2010 Freedom of Information Act request, were created after Democrat appointees solidified their 3-2 control of the agency in March 2009.
Judicial Watch is a conservative nonprofit that specializes in using the FOIA and other avenues to expose corruption in government.
The coordination between FCC officials and Free Press, the advocacy group, supported a proposal for the agency to regulate access to the Internet as if it were a public utility, in the interest of ensuring "Net Neutrality."
Proponents said doing so would assure equal access for all Internet users by barring companies from offering preferred rates for higher delivery speeds. Other users, especially in communities with limited Internet access, would be forced to accept poorer service.
But critics said the proposal would actually give the FCC a tool to regulate content, and they argued that the FCC has no authority over the medium in the first place. It would be akin to forcing FedEx and UPS to treat all packages the same way the U.S. Postal Service does.
Free Press is the most vocal of a number of far-left and liberal advocacy groups that for nearly a decade have pushed numerous proposals for vastly increasing government regulation of the Internet.
The evidence of coordination between FCC Democrats and Free Press uncovered by Judicial Watch includes:
- Emails between former Free Press president John Silver and Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps from October 2010, coordinating "how we'd like to proceed during these next three months on NN [net neutrality]."
- Documents summarizing a phone call between Silver and Copps in which, before an FCC vote on the proposal in November 2010, Silver "emphasized that a strong net neutrality rule is critical to preserving the Internet as a vibrant forum for speech, commerce, innovation and cultural expression."
- Correspondence between FCC Special Counsel David Tannenbaum and Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott coordinating speakers for a taxpayer-funded series of FCC "internet workshops" that were intended to generate public support for the proposal.
Free Press was co-founded by Monthly Review editor Robert McChesney and the Nation contributor John Nichols. The Monthly Review is "an independent Marxist journal," while the Nation has long described itself as "the flagship of the left." Free Press is partially funded by George Soros' Open Society Institute.
In April 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the FCC did not have the legal authority to regulate the Internet. Despite this ruling, in December the FCC voted 3-2, along party lines, to begin the Net Neutrality regulation process anyway.
As an independent agency, the FCC is required to regulate impartially. Internal FCC rules require all employees to disclose all communication made by interested parties and "directed to the merits or outcome of a proceeding" unless they fit a narrow set of exceptions (e.g., the communication "directly relates to an emergency in which the safety of life is endangered or substantial loss of property is threatened").
An FCC spokesman failed to return multiple calls seeking comment.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the documents released by his organization suggest "nothing less than the Obama administration's attempt to stage a government takeover of the Internet under the guise of Net Neutrality. So it should come as no surprise that Free Press, the hard-left organization with socialist ties, is improperly driving the so-called Net Neutrality agenda from inside the Obama administration."
Fitton added that "the FCC is supposed to be an independent agency that follows the law. The American people should be deeply troubled by the fact that the Obama administration, on issue after issue, seems to be run by shadowy leftist organizations."
Conn Carroll is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.