The following Letter to the Editor by IIA Honorary Chair Rick Boucher was published in the June 11th edition of The Hill newspaper:
It’s no secret that the pandemic is putting a strain on all segments of our society – but we’re pushing forward. That resilience is largely possible thanks to one of human-kind’s greatest and most complex inventions: the internet.
Broadband networks in the U.S. are functioning as they did before the pandemic, despite a huge shift in usage due to an explosion of video streaming, video conferencing and online gaming going on in homes. USTelecom reports that internet traffic increased in late April by an average of 21 percent and jumped as high as 36.75 percent. Massive increases, but they haven’t led to massive slowdowns. In fact, fixed broadband speeds in the U.S. are slightly faster than before the pandemic hit, according to Ookla Speedtest. Mobile broadband speeds are slightly lower, Ookla found, but it’s hardly more than a blip.
The strength of U.S. digital infrastructure isn’t an accident. Forward-looking, data-driven government policy and willing private-sector investment combined to make it happen. From 2014 to 2018, U.S. broadband providers invested at a rate that was about 31% higher than that of their European counterparts ($387.2 billion compared to 253.1 billion euros or the equivalent of about $296.4 billion, respectively). That investment has made U.S. communications networks the envy of the world.
In contrast, European policymakers adhered to a much more interventionist approach, requiring network unbundling, micromanaging technical specifications and imposing other requirements beyond the government’s expertise. Private sector broadband investment was smothered, leaving European consumers with a throttled internet experience during this pandemic. News reports indicate that, because the networks can’t handle the traffic, Netflix, Disney, YouTube, and Instagram will throttle video streams in Europe to ease the pandemic-induced strain.
Alas, some advocates are desperately trying to create the impression that, in fact, the U.S. internet experience is not good, that there’s some mysterious problem that only they know of. For example, contrary to Sascha Meinrath’s claim in his May 2nd Hill opinion piece that “[t]he coronavirus pandemic is breaking the internet,” U.S. broadband networks continue to function very well.
What the pandemic underscores is why every American should have access to broadband. We’ll achieve that by maintaining our successful tradition of light-touch regulation that enables high levels of private investment with creative public-private solutions to fill in the gaps.
There’s an old saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. European-style internet regulation failed…even the Europeans recognize that. Instituting it here would be a ‘fix’ that breaks the very thing that’s keeping us going.
Originally published at The Hill