Why Apply Ancient Rules to the Internet?
Soon, the public will know the results of the Federal Communication Commission’s Open Internet proceedings. Among the issues being deliberated is a potential decision to reclassify broadband internet as a common-carrier, i.e. a utility-like service under “Title II” regulations.
Title II refers to outdated, onerous rules that were originally designed to address the now long-gone domestic telephone monopoly of the 1930s. Title II was never intended for use in today’s broadband market, which of course few people could foresee. Applying these rules now could drastically change the Internet as we know it.
Most concerning is the fact that these utility-style regulations could stifle investment in broadband deployment, which would reverse the current trend of expanding Internet access across the country, including in underserved communities.
Secondly, under a utility-style regulatory regime, burdensome government intrusion would unnecessarily complicate the broadband marketplace, which would work against encouraging healthy competition between Internet service providers, which in turn broadens consumer choices.
Up to now, the Internet has flourished under a light-touch regulatory framework that has allowed it to prosper from immense investment and innovation, which could both diminish if the FCC shortsightedly decides to apply ancient Title II rules.
Suddenly, the government would have power to disrupt the Internet Service Provider market, potentially determining prices for broadband speeds and services available to consumers.
Anyone concerned with protecting the Internet should not trust the assertions of so-called “net neutrality advocates” calling for utility-style regulations. Sadly, some companies are seeking to profit from regulations by, in part, enshrining benefits for themselves under an outdated regulatory regime. These companies have wrongly told advocates that ISPs have an incentive to divide the Internet into fast lanes and slow lanes—even though no ISP has ever tried to create any kind of unequal access or “paid priority” service.
Since ISPs have upgraded their networks to be able to handle traffic so that customers receive content quickly and at the promised speeds, “paid priority” arrangements would not even improve the ISPs’ business model.
What’s more, under the constriction of these outdated regulations, consumers could suffer from a decrease in investment in new technologies, and underserved communities could see a dramatic slowdown of the expansion of Internet access.
Internet engagement in these communities currently finds itself at a promising, yet delicate stage. These consumers are using mobile devices to access the internet at higher rates than ever before. A Title II power-grab by the government would likely threaten increased local infrastructure development and broader adoption rates
The negative results are not merely academic. For those seeking a higher quality of life, access to the World Wide Web is more important than ever, with the incredible range of resources available online for those seeking information on education, employment, civic engagement, healthcare, etc.
Anyone interested in protecting the internet and keeping it open to investment and growth, as well as seeing the many benefits that result from increased high-quality access to broadband, should be very concerned with the threat that the FCC would pose should it decide to apply early 20th-century telephone regulations to the Internet.