EDITORIAL: Obama’s Internet plan an overreach

President Barack Obama has made it clear that if Congress doesn’t approve his policy wish list, he will advance his agenda via executive orders and executive branch regulations. Basically, he’s going to continue creating what amount to laws, never mind that there’s a branch of government solely responsible for that — and it’s not the executive branch.

Last week, The Associated Press reported, the president appeared at a middle school in Adelphi, Md., to tout his plan to bring more high-speed Internet access to classrooms across the United States. It’s a laudable cause, and companies such as Apple, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and Microsoft have committed $750 million. However, it’s going to take far more money — perhaps as much as $6 billion — to achieve the goal. An appropriation that large, for an initiative that reaches into schools across America, requires congressional scrutiny and approval.

But the president doesn’t have time for this checks-and-balances nonsense. So, as the AP story noted, he’s going to order the Federal Communications Commission to set aside $2 billion in service fees to connect 15,000 schools and 20 million students to high-speed Internet over two years. But the AP story failed to note the source of the so-called service fees: the owners of every mobile device in the United States.

The Washingon Post’s Zachary A. Goldfarb was gushing when this project — called ConnectEd — first came to light in August: “President Obama liked the idea laid out in a memo from his staff: an ambitious plan to expand high-speed Internet access in schools that would allow students to use digital notebooks and teachers to customize lessons like never before. Better yet, the president would not need Congress to approve it.”

Hurray! The FCC can just approve the new fee, and cellphone owners nationwide will pick up the tab.

The New York Post reported the fee would be about $5 per year per cellphone user. That’s about 42 cents per month.

It’s a small fee, to be sure, but there are much larger constitutional issues at stake here. If a president can unilaterally create a tax and appropriate its revenue, it would redefine executive authority. Never mind that, as some of the big corporate players in this project have proved, there is no shortage of investment in Internet and mobile data service — hundreds of billions of private-sector dollars have been spent. The idea that taxpayers need to “invest” in this sector at all, whether via executive action or the proper legislative process, is ridiculous.

Mobile phones provide a service that Americans clearly have demonstrated is among the most important to them. Indeed, younger Americans already have demonstrated they’re not about to give up their smartphones to enroll in Obamacare, even with all the fees they already pay. That the president would propose making this service even more expensive shows how much he’s looking out for the middle class, the poor and the young, all the people he claims to champion.

If the president wants funding for this project, he needs to get it the old-fashioned way: go to Congress and work with lawmakers of both parties. Perhaps some enterprising lawmakers would remind the president that private industry can push this ball forward, and that the public is tired of having their pockets picked through taxes masquerading as fees.