Con­trol­ling the nation’s In­ter­net

Congress has the power and the re­spon­si­bil­ity to fix net neu­tral­ity

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Ger­ard D. Scimeca

Do you re­mem­ber the last time you had an is­sue with your In­ter­net con­nec­tion and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment cheer­fully helped you re­solve it? Me nei­ther. Yet the same fed­eral gov­ern­ment who spent $2 bil­lion on a web­site that was more likely to dish out elec­tric shocks than work prop­erly is now lit­er­ally in con­trol of our nation’s in­ter­net, un­der the false rubric of pro­mot­ing “net neu­tral­ity.” Since 1996, the In­ter­net had been des­ig­nated as “in­for­ma­tion ser­vices” and left un­reg­u­lated. But un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s 2015 FCC or­der, the In­ter­net was re­de­fined as a “com­mon car­rier,” putting it un­der the thumb of Ti­tle II of the 1934 Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Act, the De­pres­sion-era law that kept our nation’s tele­graphs and ro­tary phones hum­ming.

The core con­cepts of true net neu­tral­ity are sim­ple. They in­clude no block­ing of in­for­ma­tion or re­sources, no in­ten­tional slow­ing or re­duc­tion in avail­able band­width, no “pay to play” al­lo­ca­tion of higher speeds, and pro­tec­tion of con­sumers’ on­line pri­vacy. There’s broad agree­ment on th­ese prin­ci­ples, the cru­cial dif­fer­ence is how we en­force them.

The open, fair, and in­no­va­tive In­ter­net we’ve all come to rely on got where it is to­day through mar­ket forces, not gov­ern­ment over­sight and reg­u­la­tion. It was con­sumers who sorted out the win­ners (Face­book, Mozilla, Google) from the losers (MyS­pace, Netscape, Pets.com) and that’s ex­actly as it should be. The In­ter­net has worked be­cause it re­mained largely a demo­cratic free-mar­ket, un­sul­lied by an over­ar­ch­ing gov­ern­ment scheme.

The In­ter­net now will be drip­ping with gov­ern­ment scheme, as Ti­tle II reg­u­lates in­ter­net providers as it would a mo­nop­o­lis­tic util­ity from 80 years ago. Gov­ern­ment’s heavy hand is al­ready wreak­ing dam­age by throt­tling the in­vest­ments which help fuel the en­gine of in­no­va­tion. Since the Ti­tle II or­der went into ef­fect, in­vest­ment in broad­band has gone down each quar­ter — a first. This has led to providers hav­ing to slow ex­pan­sion, up­grades, and new ser­vices for their cus­tomers, re­vers­ing the trend of the in­ter­net giv­ing us more con­tent, bet­ter ser­vice, faster speeds, at less cost.

Con­sumers lose with gov­ern­ment reg­u­lat­ing the In­ter­net like a util­ity, but big con­tent providers like Google, Face­book and Net­flix love it be­cause they win no mat­ter what rules the gov­ern­ment im­poses on our modems or lo­cal in­ter­net providers. Ti­tle II lim­its its reg­u­la­tions to ser­vice, not con­tent, seem­ingly obliv­i­ous to the re­al­ity that con­tent re­lies en­tirely on broad­band in­fra­struc­ture and ser­vice tech­nol­ogy.

Be­fore the FCC chose to butt-in, the FTC ca­pa­bly pro­tected con­sumers from un­fair com­pe­ti­tion and de­cep­tive prac­tices. They suc­cess­fully took mul­ti­ple com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Google, to court for var­i­ous trans­gres­sions. There is no rea­son why this en­force­ment mech­a­nism can­not con­tinue to serve con­sumer in­ter­ests.

With new tech­nolo­gies on the hori­zon that will pro­vide un­prece­dented speeds, pro­cess­ing power, and op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­no­va­tion, it is crit­i­cal that we re­turn to a free-mar­ket frame­work of lim­ited reg­u­la­tion which al­lowed the in­ter­net to be­come the pow­er­ful tool of in­no­va­tion and eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion it is to­day. Re­peal­ing the cur­rent sti­fling rules will un­leash a flood of on­line in­vest­ment, ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, and in­no­va­tion.

Grave con­cern over the gov­ern­ment reg­u­lat­ing the In­ter­net is even shared by the very per­son who coined the term “net neu­tral­ity,” law pro­fes­sor Tim Wu, who wor­ries that the FCC’s present rules gives gov­ern­ment the power to shape “me­dia pol­icy, so­cial pol­icy, over­sight of the po­lit­i­cal process, [and] is­sues free speech.” That is a fright­en­ing amount of power for the gov­ern­ment to have, es­pe­cially given their re­cent record of whole­sale pri­vacy vi­o­la­tions.

FCC Chair­man Ajit Pai has made it a pri­or­ity to es­tab­lish a pol­icy frame­work that pro­tects both con­sumers and the fu­ture of the In­ter­net. The key rests with Congress, who ought to work with Chair­man Pai to see this vi­sion be­come re­al­ity and en­dure as ad­min­is­tra­tions come and go. Over time, the con­cerns about net neu­tral­ity, se­cu­rity, pri­vacy, and free and fair com­pe­ti­tion will only grow more ur­gent. Now is the time to put work­able rules in place that will defini­tively pro­tect the in­ter­ests of con­sumers and make sure the in­ter­net re­mains open to every­one.

Ger­ard Scimeca, a lawyer, is vice pres­i­dent of CASE, Con­sumer Ac­tion for a Strong Econ­omy, based in Ar­ling­ton, Va.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY LI­NAS GARSYS

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