Under the light-touch regulatory framework that has governed broadband service for the last 15 years, we have seen a robust Internet economy develop that has stimulated investment in next-generation networks, created jobs, and fostered innovation and consumer choice. Most importantly, though, the Internet has remained open. That is why the Federal Communications Commission’s recent proposal to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act is so alarming. Reclassification would greatly stall, if not completely halt, this growth and innovation and turn the Internet into something sadly recognizable – a legacy telephone network.
Proponents of the FCC’s reclassification of broadband as a public utility believe this step is essential to protecting consumers from broadband service providers. They perpetuate claims that providers have maliciously blocked or slowed Internet traffic, manufacturing hysteria over a fictional problem. They also claim that reclassification is necessary to prevent broadband service providers from entering into “paid prioritization” agreements.
Reclassification would heap 80 years of regulatory baggage on broadband providers restricting their flexibility to innovate and placing them at the mercy of a government agency. These businesses have thrived on dynamism and the ability to evolve quickly to shifting market forces. Subjecting them to bureaucratic red tape won’t promote innovation, consumer welfare or the economy.
In 1998, the FCC under Democratic Chairman Bill Kennard examined the technology and function of Internet access services and rightly classified them as information services, placing outside Title II’s crushing regulatory grasp. In three subsequent rulings (in 2002, 2005 and 2007), the FCC affirmed that decision. The Supreme Court also blessed these findings in the National Cable & Telecommunications Association v. Brand X Internet Services case. Since that time, businesses have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in broadband networks and services, reliant on the commission’s classification to justify the massive investment in American infrastructure. Upending this long-standing precedent and fundamentally changing the regulatory structure governing the Internet would deliver a devastating blow to innovation and investment in both networks and services. Therefore, I have introduced legislation to prevent the FCC from following through with its proposal and allow participants in the Internet ecosystem to continue operating under the current regulatory structure.
At a time when the Internet is a thriving job creation engine that is driving productivity and economic growth, it is reckless to suggest, let alone adopt, policies that would disrupt its success. I encourage the FCC to further the potential of the Internet to foster innovation and investment and drop this damaging proposal.