With the announcement that the Federal Communications Commission will be voting on the Restoring Internet Freedom Order at its Dec. 14 meeting, the supporters of net neutrality are again clamoring that this is the “end of the Internet as we know it.” This hysteria has been occurring on and off for many years. It rose to a heated fervor in 2014; subsided following the February 26, 2015 adoption of the Open Internet Order under former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler; and is currently reaching an unprecedented level of vitriol, including hateful attacks and personal threats against current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his family.
Everyone wants an “open Internet.” Indeed, then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell provided four guiding principles of Internet freedom in 2004: the freedom to access lawful content on the Internet; the freedom to use applications; the freedom to attach personal devices to the network; and the freedom to obtain service plan information. The FCC adopted these principles in 2005 in its Internet Policy Statement. For 10 years, these principles allowed a truly open Internet to flourish without burdensome government regulation or interference, as had been envisioned by Congress and the Clinton administration in 1996 when they agreed to regulate the Internet with a light touch.
The Restoring Internet Freedom Order will reinstitute important principles that have stood the test of time. Indeed, as many supporters of the pending order have noted, net neutrality as promulgated in the Title II Order was a solution to a problem that never existed.
For example, comments from State Rep. Garry Smith’s, R-S.C., (which Citizens Against Government Waste included with its August 15 reply comments) to the FCC regarding the Restoring Internet Freedom notice of proposed rulemaking cited his inquiries to the S. C. Department of Consumer Affairs and S.C. Attorney General’s office regarding documentation of South Carolina residents being harmed by service providers that would have required imposition of the Title II Order. They responded that there were no such reports to either government entity.
This debate has always been about whether government regulations should control the Internet or the private sector should be allowed to continue to create new ways of connecting the world without undue restraints. The most effective way to establish that policy would have been for Congress to update the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which itself updated the Communications Act of 1934. Instead, former chairman Wheeler stepped into the legislative void and imposed the heaviest regulatory structure possible on the Internet under Title II of the 1934 act.
This antiquated regulatory regime imposed costly burdens on Internet service providers (ISPs) and created uncertainty for future investments. Since Title II could only apply to ISPs, edge providers and other actors in the Internet ecosystem did not operate under the same rules, particularly in relation to privacy. A March 2017 economic analysis by the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies found that while service providers continued to invest in new networks, they did not invest as much as they would have had Title II restrictions not been imposed on their industry.
The December 14 FCC vote will restore the light touch regulatory regime over the Internet envisioned by policymakers under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In a continued effort to increase transparency in the agency’s proceedings, a white copy edition of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order has been released for the public to review well ahead of the scheduled vote. This new precedent set by Chairman Ajit Pai has afforded greater dialogue on items before the commission than has occurred in the past.
The order reclassifies broadband Internet access service as an information service under Title I of the Communications Act, which in turn restores the longstanding jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission in consumer protection and Internet privacy. The order also designates mobile broadband as a private mobile service, rather than a commercial radio service not subject to Title II restrictions. It also repeals vague and uncertain Internet conduct standards that left the nature of a violation to the imagination.
From day to day, despite the heated outcry from those whose true goal is to increase the government’s control over everyone’s lives, people will greatly benefit from the adoption of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. Innovation and investment will flourish, and new technologies will be created without the fear that the government will step in and overregulate one of the most important components of the global economy.
Deborah Collier (@dcolliercagw) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is director of Technology & Telecommunications Policy at Citizens Against Government Waste.
If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.