Why the FCC Chairman Is Right to Propose Scrapping ‘Net Neutrality’ Regulations
Government control over the internet threatens the ability of young people to connect with friends, do business, read news
In the summer of 1934, Philo T. Farnsworth conducted the first full-scale public demonstration of his new invention, the television. Several weeks earlier, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed into law the Communications Act, which established the Federal Communications Commission and set up a regulatory framework for interstate radio and telephone service.
Few people today would want to spend much time watching a Depression-era television, no matter how remarkable it might have seemed at the time. But some would have modern technology regulated by a Depression-era law.
In 2015, the Obama administration’s FCC invoked Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 to regulate broadband internet access. Typically, Title II governs “telecommunications services,” which face more onerous regulations than the “information services” governed by Title I.
In plain English, it was a takeover of the internet by a bunch of people — the federal government — who still use fax machines and landlines. Why on earth would we want to put the internet into the hands of people who are all but certain to slow it down and kill its innovative spirit?
So we welcome FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s draft Restore Internet Freedom Order, which would remove regulation of the internet from Title II and put it back under Title I.
Of course, the internet, like any other industry, is subject to reasonable regulation. But so-called net neutrality was too much of a bad thing. Just in the two years since the FCC approved its Orwellian-titled Open Internet order in 2015, investment in broadband infrastructure has declined for the first time ever outside of a recession.
Some smaller ISPs have been driven out of business by larger competitors — big companies can always find a way to deal with regulations more easily than smaller ones — leaving consumers with fewer choices because the rules made it harder for small companies to roll out new products and expand their networks.
Government control over the internet threatens the ability of millions of young people to connect with friends, read the news, do business, and consume entertainment to the way we have become accustomed. And this matters to us, deeply. People aged 25 to 34 had a higher monthly average of internet usage than any other age cohort in 2016.
We’re not impressed by vague promises and clever marketing from the FCC.
Sure, “net neutrality” is a catchy name. Who could be against neutrality? It’s sold as a way to keep internet service providers from blocking websites, slowing down content, or speeding up content for customers willing to pay for the advantage.
The reality is considerably more nefarious. Like much in the regulatory sphere, this rose by any other name is likely to cause innovation to wither and die.
“A more accurate way to call it, I think, is ‘internet regulation,'” Pai told The Wall Street Journal in May, “because the essential question is whether we want it to be governed by technologists and engineers and businesspeople, as it was under the light-touch approach during the Clinton administration, or by government lawyers and bureaucrats here in Washington.”
The internet is not a public utility. And to continue to blossom it needs investment, as Pai has noted. “The infrastructure of the internet isn’t like slow-moving utilities,” he told WSJ. “It’s not a water company.”
But under the heavy hand of government, unlimited streaming services that eschew data limits would come under increased scrutiny. ISPs will incur higher costs, and they’ll pass those along to customers. Title II also opens the door to the imposition of new taxes. When government wins, you lose.
In his dissent from the 2015 Open Internet order, Pai called the decision “a radical departure from the bipartisan, market-oriented policies that have served us so well for the last decades.”
He’s right. There was no need for any of this. Pre-2015, the internet was not some dystopian wasteland where techno-overlords imposed their malignant will on a helpless populace.
On the contrary, since the late 1990s the internet has operated quite well with little government interference, and innovation has flourished. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, Snapchat and a host of others have competed and helped to develop the low-cost, high-quality, ever-improving internet you and billions of others enjoy today.
In an open marketplace, everyday customers pick the winners and losers. If bureaucrats and special-interest groups get their noses any further under the tent, the government will control the internet, and the odds are long that there will be more losers than winners. The bureaucrats and their allies will serve their own interests, not yours.
This government power grab is unnecessary and counterproductive. It is a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.
Chairman Pai’s proposal is a great first step back on the road to technological sanity. The full commission should vote to approve Pai’s draft order at its next meeting on December 14.
David Barnes is policy director for Generation Opportunity, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for more freedom, better opportunities, and a brighter future for all young Americans.