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A Star Chamber for Internet Regulation


California’s leaders have worked long and hard to dispel the state’s image as an over-regulated maze for business. In 2012, those efforts culminated in a landmark law, signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, declaring that the state would not regulate the Internet, preserving the freewheeling innovation and vitality of one the state’s most critical economic drivers.

But now an unelected state official reviewing the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal has called for sweeping new Internet regulations — under the guise of its review of the transaction — that would render that bipartisan law a dead letter.

If Internet access, speeds and prices can suddenly be mandated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) under this kind of flimsy pretense, the legislative policy of Internet freedom and deregulation online would no longer exist. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail as the full commission moves forward.

Overall, the CPUC’s proposed decision correctly recognized that the transaction should be approved. That was no great surprise, because Comcast and Time Warner Cable operate in separate markets, it was always clear that the competitive issues raised by this deal were limited and could be readily addressed.

But most of the conditions suggested in the proposed decision have nothing to do with addressing the sort of competitive concerns that the deal might raise. Instead they address broader policy issues that are the province of the Legislature, not an unelected state official supposedly reviewing a single business transaction.

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