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Those who look at Washington and see only gridlock and bickering should look to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as an exception. By implementing improved transparency and review processes in the past months, the FCC has achieved far more transparency than ever before. A shining example of improved transparency at the Commission is the current review of regulations that are hindering innovation and investment through policies tethered to the past.
After two years of debate around the Obama administration’s revival of outmoded Title II regulations, it has become clear that the last FCC’s guidance was structured to allow the Commission to control prices, traffic flow, and content deployment — not to protect basic openness and principles of nondiscrimination around broadband operators or to address cybersecurity concerns.
The FCC’s efforts to review these regulations to allow for better competition and investment in network infrastructure should be commended. Obsolete common carrier regulations that shackle internet service providers (ISPs) with utility-style rules for broadband need to be jettisoned. Keeping investors interested in improving internet infrastructure is important to our future — continued investments in improved, smarter networks will serve as a catalyst for the next generation of technologies that depend on real-time data and sensors with 5G network access.
Recent fights over net neutrality were part of a classic shell game. Politicians talked about the noncontroversial and widely supported “net neutrality” issue in public — which even ISPs agreed should be addressed — then voted on something completely different. They put in place a package of highly prescriptive economic regulations that would turn the internet into a heavily regulated dinosaur and stymie innovation. As one commentator noted in the Verge, “Comcast and Verizon are just pipes. The dumber the better.” How is the internet, the backbone of a rapidly growing percentage of the economy, supposed to get smarter, safer, and more secure if we ask regulators to treat internet infrastructure as dumb pipes?
Under Chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership, the FCC is wisely returning to first principles — it’s pulling back overbearing and unnecessary regulations and restoring basic openness, freedom, and innovation online. This will allow internet infrastructure providers to make needed upgrades to enhance network security and speed, helping enterprise and individual customers.
Security and trust in the networks is vital for America’s internet economy to continue to grow and expand. The stifling and complex structure of the last administration’s Title II economic regulation has driven away billions of dollars of needed investment in more sophisticated networks every year — up to $35 billion annually according to one study, and by as much as 50 percent according to The US Telecom Association. Removing regulatory barriers to entry is crucial to moving our internet economy forward and paving the way for smart devices such as connected cars and the internet of things.
Once open competition is restored and America’s broadband networks are free to innovate and grow, consumers will benefit from enhanced networks that avoid latency and speed up content delivery. If net neutrality is to be addressed, it should be by Congress, which could enact strong rules to keep the flow of internet traffic open, protect free speech, and ensure all Americans can participate equally online.
The FCC demonstrated success pursuing an open and transparent process, as more than 20 million public comments were filed on the Restoring Internet Freedom Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, expressing all sides and points of view. While it’s no surprise that in this era of fake news, many of these comments were bot-induced spam, most of the legitimate and substantive comments coalesced around the view that net neutrality should be protected without the economically destructive and obsolete Title II regime.
Now the agency is in final deliberations and (following reforms initiated by Chairman Pai) is expected to release a draft “white copy” decision weeks before any final vote, giving stakeholders, outside experts, and the media a further opportunity to evaluate and debate the issues. There is great hope the FCC will follow through on the proposal to roll back the broken Title II regulatory regime and pave the way for a stronger, more effective internet infrastructure and that the decision will be made at an open public vote, livestreamed to the world.
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