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The FCC chairman shouldn't allow states to undermine the rollback of Title II regulations.
There are multiple reasons why countries like the U.S. have accounted for the bulk of the world’s internet innovation over the past few decades. Simply put, the U.S. is an attractive market with a common language, common currency and common regulatory policy supporting private infrastructure investment, including wireless and wireline networks delivering internet connection. This is not the case in the European Union, where innovators have to contend with 28 nations, 24 languages and 17 currencies.
The U.S. is indeed an innovation hub. However, it’s on the verge of losing this advantage if it continues on with overregulation and doesn’t guard against piecemeal internet policy frameworks.
Let’s back up and give a little bit of context before diving into the problem.
The success of the commercial internet in the U.S. is largely attributed to a history of hands-off, market-oriented policy that was emboldened during the Clinton and Bush administrations. This era relied on a “light-touch” policy approach, and it provided many of the core components that drove the internet to become the dynamic communications tool it is today.
In fact, in the nearly two decade span following the Telecom Act of 1996 – legislation which intentionally gave the internet room to grow – the U.S. enjoyed a staggering $1.5 trillion in private investment in networks. This translates into about one quarter of the world’s total private network investments.
Now, queue the issue. In 2015, the Federal Communication Commission approved its “Open Internet Order,” which relied on communications law from the 1930s and re-classified internet service providers as public utilities under “Title II.” In essence, in attempts to “get ahead” of a problem that didn’t even exist yet, the Obama-FCC put ISPs in the same box as water, electricity and gas. Why? By classifying them as public utilities, the federal government gave itself considerably more power over the internet.
As a result, much of the investment, innovation and economic productivity our nation enjoyed at the hands of light-touch internet policy hit the brakes. Estimates suggest a loss of some 75,000 well-paying jobs and a 5.6 percent decline in network investment among the 12 largest internet providers in the U.S. Another analysis suggests the U.S. missed out on $30-40 billion annually in private investments and more than half a million jobs.
So, what happens next? Wisely, the current FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, put forth a proposal toroll back the Obama FCC’s Title II reclassification and restore the proven, light-touch framework that will refuel investment as well as the innovation and more general economic productivity that stems from that. The proposal, known as “Restoring Internet Freedom,” removes the power inserted into the hands of the federal government, thereby denying suffocating regulation and allowing the U.S. broadband market to ebb and flow the way it’s meant to – through unfettered competition between businesses.
In order for this desired outcome to last, more needs to be done. One other marker the FCC can lay is a national framework for broadband. As Chairman Pai’s proposal moves forward – many expect a vote by the end of the year – politically fueled opposition is moving to the states. The goal is to emulate the Obama FCC’s Title II reclassification on the state level. Not only would such an effort chill the golden goose of innovation, but it would also unleash a tidal wave of complications and uncertainty. To govern and regulate sound policy, you need transparency and efficiency. So which is more transparent and efficient: Fifty separate patch work internet policy plans, or one comprehensive national framework? The answer is pretty clear.
As we move closer to the roll back of the Open Internet Order, it’s vital for the commission to swiftly repeal burdensome Title II regulation and consider implementing a lasting legacy of innovation and competition through an overarching federal framework. The commission should remain strong and committed to its agenda, especially in the face of the unfortunate political attacks that are all too common these days in Washington. Politics throughout history have stalled many praiseworthy attempts to improve policies that improve our lives. America’s digital story is just beginning, and all Americans desire a chance to participate under a common framework, not be held hostage to political whims of one state or another.
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