A recent Georgetown University Study by Kevin Hassett and Robert Shapiro confirms that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to subject Internet Service Providers (“ISPs) to “Title II” public utility regulation will “have significant adverse effects on future investment in the Internet.”
The study highlights how new regulation can have a “destructive, negative effect” if capital investment is delayed as a result of the need to resolve new market uncertainty. It notes how the history of FCC regulation of Internet companies has been surprisingly uniform and consistent. Whether under a Democratic or Republican Administration, the historical arc of broadband regulation gravitated toward a light-touch deregulatory approach that treated the Internet as an information service rather than a heavily-regulated telephone common carrier service.
Such treatment of broadband as an information service allowed the pace of Internet adoption to rapidly exceed that of the personal computer or dial-up Internet service. Technological advances and competition accelerated broadband uptake by lowering its “average, quality-adjusted price” that further accelerated its uptake. By contrast, studies have detailed how common carrier regulation inhibited competition for consumers and businesses, and discouraged and slowed innovation in telephone service.
Consumers now, however, bear the risks of the FCC’s decision to reverse course and impose new regulations on ISPs that today provide much of the Internet’s infrastructure and content. Such regulation could ultimately result in increased costs and price for Internet service beyond new universal service fees. Moreover, the Georgetown study notes how the regulatory path toward Title II may result in reduced efficiency of key network arrangements that depend on the Internet platform. Reduced efficiency could have the long-term negative effect of devaluing the investments made in those platforms or based on them and thus trigger many in the Internet ecosystem to minimize the costs of regulation rather than maximize efficient operations.
In addition, the study identifies scholarship that quantifies the negative potential impact of telecommunications regulation on broadband investment. For example, the ban on “paid priority” arrangements could affect telemedicine applications and cost the economy $100 million per year by 2019. More generally, Title II regulation of ISPs could reduce their “future wireline investments by between 17.8 percent and 31.7 percent per year, and their future total wireline and wireless investments by between 12.8 percent and 20.8 percent per year.”
The study’s authors also raise helpful international comparisons to better understand the imminent consequences of Title II regulation on broadband investment. Specifically, they note the “large negative effects on investment” if our nation’s regulatory model were moved closer to the heavy-handed regulations that governed Europe’s communications landscape in the first decade of the 21st century.
Finally, the Georgetown study’s most sobering point is how the “negative effects of uncertainty” resulting from the FCC’s sudden policy shift and on-going litigation may actually understate the harm of reduced broadband investment.
In light of this additional evidence and the potential harm to broadband and consumers, the Internet Innovation Alliance again emphasizes its support for a bipartisan legislative solution to promote an Open Internet without overly burdensome Title II Common Carrier Regulations for 21st Century broadband.