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In its effort to impose heavy-handed regulations on the Internet — an idea with little support from the American public or Congress — the Obama administration turned to the Federal Communications Commission to simply pretend Congress has given it authority to regulate.

That effort was blocked when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously struck down the FCC’s regulatory proposals in Comcast v. FCC.

President Barack Obama and his close friend and FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, however, reacted to the court decision not by going to Congress through the legitimate legislative process, but by escalating their regulatory assault.

They are now pursuing the reclassification of the Internet as an old-fashioned public utility, an unprecedented reversal of long-standing policy that would give the government sweeping authority to regulate the Internet.

It’s a Washington takeover.

Internet access has never been regulated like old-fashioned telephone lines — classified as Title II under the Telecommunications Act. The FCC settled the matter in 1998, when the Commission, under Clinton-appointed Chairman William Kennard, demolished the same reclassification arguments being made today in that year’s Report to Congress:

“Our findings in this regard are reinforced by the negative policy consequences of a conclusion that Internet access services should be classed as ‘telecommunications’ … Classifying Internet access services as telecommunications services could have significant consequences for the global development of the Internet. We recognize the unique qualities of the Internet, and do not presume that legacy regulatory frameworks are appropriately applied to it.”

Yet the FCC has now proposed to do precisely that, to apply an inappropriate legacy regulatory framework to the Internet. It’s a huge mistake because free-market Internet policy has been a tremendous success.

The Internet — in the absence of regulation — has flourished into a remarkable engine of economic growth, innovation, competition and free expression. The FCC would reverse a remarkably successful policy without an honest public debate and without asking Congress to change the law.

The FCC’s proposal is extreme, and has been developed and supported by extremists. Consider the words of one of the leading advocates of the proposal, Robert McChesney, founder of the left-wing group Free Press, whose former communications director now works at the FCC and whose former policy director now works at the State Department.

McChesney wrote: “What we want to have in the U.S. and in every society is an Internet that is not private property, but a public utility.” He went on to explain that “the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”

This extreme policy change is opposed by a broad bipartisan coalition that supports continuing the successful free-market Internet policy of the past 12 years. Congressman Gene Green of Texas recently led a letter signed by 74 House Democrats urging the FCC to back down and concluding: “We urge you not to move forward with a proposal that undermines critically important investment in broadband and the jobs that come with it.”

The dean of the House Democratic Caucus, John Dingell, who was intimated involved in writing the 1996 Telecom Act, sent his own letter to the FCC noting that he supports reasonable regulation but has “strong reservations about the course the Commission is presently taking with respect to the regulation of broadband access services.”

The Federal Communications Commission’s plan would have such a dramatic negative effect on investment that respected sector analyst Craig Moffett at Bernstein Research dubbed it “the nuclear option.”

When an unelected federal bureaucracy like the FCC proposes sweeping new powers for itself without a vote of Congress, it is appropriate to alert the public.

In fact, only by mobilizing the public against such FCC extremism can we prompt Congress to take up the issue and create a more reasonable policy.

Phil Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity, a conservative organization in Arlington, Va.

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