Un­leash­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of in­ter­net in­no­va­tion

First, crip­pling reg­u­la­tions placed on net­works must be un­done

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Dan Sch­nei­der Dan Sch­nei­der is ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union.

In just a few short decades, the in­ter­net has grown from an aca­demic cu­rios­ity to the driv­ing eco­nomic, cul­tural and civic force of our time. Un­imag­in­ably fast net­works now criss­cross the globe and no one even blinks as so­cial me­dia up­dates roll in from its far­thest cor­ners — and be­yond (even the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion is on­line). I’m proud to say that the Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union’s an­nual con­fer­ence — known to con­ser­va­tives around the globe as CPAC — had a half bil­lion Twit­ter im­pres­sions along with live stream­ing to every con­ti­nent.

But this tor­rent of in­no­va­tion and ex­pan­sion is un­der siege right now, thanks to crip­pling reg­u­la­tions placed upon our net­works by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

These so-called “Ti­tle II” util­ity rules are a hang­over from the days of Ma Bell and the Rail­road trusts, a reg­u­la­tory straight­jacket de­signed for the lum­ber­ing mo­nop­o­lies of an ear­lier era, not the nim­ble com­pet­i­tive dy­namos that imag­ined and built to­day’s high speed in­ter­net in just a few short years. In fact, al­though these bu­reau­cratic relics lay fal­low for decades, no one ever thought to ap­ply them to the in­ter­net for most of its ex­is­tence. Not un­til the last ad­min­is­tra­tion’s reg­u­la­tory binge.

For­tu­nately, times have changed. Newly in­stalled FCC Chair­man Ajit Pai vig­or­ously op­posed these rules when they were first clum­sily clamped onto broad­band, and he has made clear he plans to move quickly to un­shackle our net­works and re­store free­dom to in­no­vate on­line. For Amer­i­cans who de­pend on the in­ter­net, this re­lief can­not come soon enough.

Ex­perts re­port that, dur­ing the five years while the rules were be­ing con­sid­ered, the loom­ing threat of util­ity reg­u­la­tion drove down broad­band in­vest­ment by $35 bil­lion a year. In the two years since they were put in place, broad­band in­vest­ment has dropped another $4 bil­lion. And that trend will only ac­cel­er­ate if some­thing isn’t changed, putting jobs and de­ploy­ment of faster and even far­ther reach­ing con­nec­tions at risk.

That pre­dic­tion’s no sur­prise. In Europe, where util­ity style rules have been in place for years, per-house­hold in­vest­ment in broad­band is half what we see in the United States. And even lib­eral groups like the NAACP and the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­ica warn util­ity reg­u­la­tions are a threat to eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity and put Amer­i­can jobs at risk.

In­no­va­tors and en­trepreneurs are even more con­cerned, fear­ful that mi­cro­manag­ing ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and risk tak­ing will short cir­cuit the well­spring of dig­i­tal progress and in­ven­tion that con­sumers and cit­i­zens have come to rely on. They warn that bury­ing net­work devel­op­ment and de­ploy­ment in the kind of red tape that has stran­gled other in­dus­tries will dry up the flood of life-chang­ing break­throughs like GPS map­ping and di­rec­tions, home dig­i­tal as­sis­tants, and cat­e­gory break­ing ser­vices like Uber and AirBnB. As Mark Cuban put it, “The in­ter­net can’t in­no­vate liv­ing un­der the rules of a 1970s tele­phone com­pany.”

On the other side of the ledger, sup­port­ers point to only one po­ten­tial ben­e­fit of­fered by util­ity reg­u­la­tion — they claim it pro­vides a clear le­gal foun­da­tion for sep­a­rate “net neu­tral­ity” rules the FCC en­acted at the same time. Those rules pre­vent in­ter­net providers from block­ing, throt­tling, or harm­fully dis­crim­i­nat­ing against traf­fic on­line.

At a min­i­mum, the claim that util­ity reg­u­la­tion pro­vides le­gal sup­port makes one im­por­tant fact crys­tal clear — con­trary to many ac­tivists try­ing to dem­a­gogue or politi­cize this is­sue, net neu­tral­ity and util­ity reg­u­la­tion are, in fact, two dif­fer­ent things. And when Mr. Pai works to undo the rav­ages of util­ity reg­u­la­tion, he is not en­gaged in any kind of at­tack on net neu­tral­ity.

Be­yond that, how­ever, the lib­eral’s sales pitch is hol­low. Util­ity reg­u­la­tion is not needed for net neu­tral­ity — Congress could pass a net neu­tral­ity law any time it wishes. If there are to be such stan­dards for the in­ter­net, they should be en­acted by Congress, not a rogue agency seek­ing to ex­pand its turf. In the mean­time, the “Ti­tle II” util­ity rules un­der “Pres­i­dent Obama’s plan” (as Obama’s White House staff called them) are a gross over­reach and do in­cred­i­ble harm to our net­works, in­no­va­tion and jobs.

While I do not be­lieve the ba­sic net neu­tral­ity rules are nec­es­sary (the FCC never found a sys­temic prob­lem nor demon­strated a mar­ginal ben­e­fit), they are not as oner­ous as the Ti­tle II over­reach. While a case can be made for a kin­der net neu­tral­ity rule, di­vorced from Ti­tle II, the ques­tion should be raised and de­bated in Congress where there is al­ready sup­port. In­deed, that is how the Framers of the Con­sti­tu­tion in­tended laws to be made.

But Ti­tle II util­ity reg­u­la­tion is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent beast, uti­liz­ing the most in­ef­fi­cient way to im­pose a rule. This is a malev­o­lent crea­ture of the FCC and it falls on the agency to atone for its own mis­take. Mr. Pai should be com­mended for tak­ing on this ur­gent work to pro­tect the in­ter­net econ­omy for the next gen­er­a­tion of net­work in­no­va­tion for all con­sumers.


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