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FTC on Net neutrality: No new laws needed

Commission concludes that there is no need for extensive regulations of the sort that the Republican-controlled Congress considered, and rejected, last year.

The lifelong bureaucrats at the Federal Trade Commission are hardly a bunch of Hayek-quoting, Ron Paul-voting libertarians.

Which is why it's worthwhile to note the conclusion that the FTC reached on Wednesday about Net neutrality: No new laws.

It took the FTC a mere 169 pages to arrive at that result in its new report on the topic, probably one of the most exhaustive treatments of Net neutrality to date. It concludes: "We recommend that policy makers proceed with caution in evaluating proposals to enact regulation in the area of broadband Internet access."

Translated from government-speak, that means there's no need for extensive regulations of the sort that the Republican-controlled Congress considered, and rejected, last year. The Democrats have not tried to resuscitate the legislation this year.

The FTC says, sensibly enough: "Industrywide regulatory schemes--particularly those imposing general, one-size-fits-all restraints on business conduct--may well have adverse effects on consumer welfare, despite the good intentions of their proponents."

True to form, the FTC isn't recommending a hands-off approach. The staff report notes that it shares antitrust enforcement with the U.S. Justice Department and is "well-equipped to analyze potential conduct and business arrangements involving broadband Internet access." It also says that "current federal consumer protection law" can address deceptive marketing practices by Internet service providers.

Commissioner Jon Leibowitz, a Democrat, published what amounts to a dissenting opinion He said that existing antitrust law may not be "adequate to the task" of Internet broadband regulation.

The report drew praise from Tim Muris, who was forced to be circumspect while heading the FTC but can speak speak more freely now that he's back teaching at George Mason University's law school in Arlington, Va.

"Net neutrality is a meaningless term, lacking a rationale or analytical basis to impose new regulations on the Internet," Muris said. "Some government actions, while seeking to help consumers, harm them instead. As the FTC report today detailed, robust competition and dynamic business models pervade the Internet."

In contrast, pro-regulation groups, who would like to see the Federal Communications Commission receive the power to enforce Net neutrality rules, attacked the FTC report.

It "falls far short in its analysis of a competitive market and the related issue of Net neutrality," said Public Knowledge, which has pressed Congress to give the FCC that authority.