Bridge Span 17-6: The Net Neutrality Debate in a Phrase: Net Neutrality Good, Title II Bad

Net neutrality, once a concept only discussed in arcane telecommunications legal policy settings has become a quite popular topic. Network neutrality is the notion of an “open internet,” defined by the FCC as allowing “…consumers can go where they want, when they want.” To go a little deeper, one Democrat and then two successive Republican FCC chairmen outlined and ultimately published a “policy statement” that brought definition to the idea with four principles that should be preserved by the broadband industry. And for well over a decade these bi-partisan principles were followed.

The goal of more broadband, more places, more often, and for more people was being met. The light touch regulatory model powered by a free market was the grounding for that success. No other model conceived even comes close to seeing the level of consumer freedom flourish alongside consumer choice.

But, unfortunately, for a wild-eyed minority of big government activists that was never the true goal. Instead they were on a quest to force a different, less effective, more consumer restrictive, intellectual experiment. And to that end the FCC, in thrall of activists, acted strictly along party lines and without citing any harm or unsolved challenges, to place the Internet under heavy handed government control that went far beyond the principles of net neutrality. This move “reclassified” broadband traffic as Title II telecommunications service, meaning that going forward broadband providers of all sorts would have to manage their systems, and be beholden, to government restrictions literally more than 70 years old. Such rules were created, 50 years before the public advent of the internet, to regulate rotary dial telephones provided by a monopoly.

Today though, the FCC began the conversation of whether the U.S. should instead look to the future, embrace innovation, and restore a free and open internet to consumers so that innovation, investment, opportunity and creativity can once again flourish. The first step was to approve moving forward with a notice of proposed rulemaking. The language of the notice almost implies the necessity of net neutrality rules highlighting that the question of whether light touch regulation would remain is not really at issue. The real question is whether the internet should be restricted by a decades-old law and be a government utility – a tangle of laws and regulations that brought us such celebrated innovations as an extra-long cord for the touch-tone phone receiver.

FCC Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Reilly have made clear that they will stand by American ingenuity and opportunity and bravely support an appropriate framework for promoting an open internet by empowering lawfully operating consumers. The Commissioners clearly understand that for two decades the internet flourished and delivered great value to every citizen. They see that such opportunities are not played out, that so much more is yet to come. They know it is not time to declare the defeat of American ingenuity. They also understand that service providers, network providers, must be allowed to manage their systems.

Really though, this is an issue that Congress must address. We cannot afford to risk our future of health, communications, entertainment, work and education to those preferring social experiments above social success. Congress is the only entity that can instill the certainty, the permanence of supportive public policy for all consumers, clearly defining the authority of the FCC and the breadth of enforcement of it, or the FTC, has to enforce the principles of a free internet.

Title II is the wrong path for a variety of reasons if we want an innovative future and economic growth. Thankfully then, the FCC has begun a much needed process to restore the internet to consumers instead of locking away its potential behind government restriction.

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