Congress can write a better law than the FCC’s ill-advised regulations.
The Federal Communications Commission voted recently to approve regulating the Internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act, approving the plan favored by President Barack Obama to achieve what’s known as “net neutrality.” But that may not be the best way to ensure the principles of an open Internet in an era of big political swings. Remarkably, bipartisan Congressional action is a real possibility and would do a better job ensuring lasting protection for consumers.
I bet most people who supported Title II utility-style regulation didn’t know that adopting that option would increase costs on low- and middle-income people. That’s not something in the standard net neutrality talking points, but it’s true. Robert Litan and Hal Singer authored a report for the Progressive Policy Institute that predicted new taxes and fees would increase by $11 billion because of state and local regulations as regulatory costs are passed on to consumers.
In fact, the prospect of increasing taxes and fees is so ominous that it inspired one of the first bipartisan actions of the new Congress. Recently, a bill was introduced in the Senate to prevent some sales taxes, though state and localities may still be able to impose other fees that the law can’t prohibit.
Adoption of Title II may cause other unintended harms that could stifle the innovative economy. The FCC says it will “forbear” from the application of certain provisions to prevent negative outcomes, but that could get pretty messy. Lawsuits are certainly on the way. Companies will jockey for their best position while trying to keep their competitors at bay, questioning the picking and choosing of each rule.
Although the ruling is settled, Congress can still pass a bipartisan solution that enacts the valuable objectives of preserving an open Internet while leaving the onerous utility-style regulations of Title II behind. There are other solutions available, such as Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, but the president and net neutrality supporters wanted something more. A Congressional act is a more permanent solution that would enshrine the prohibition against blocking sites, throttling speeds for consumers or allowing paid prioritization by companies for faster lanes, and would require disclosure of network management practices. A law doesn’t leave these rules in the hands of regulators whose opinions could change with the political winds. Who knows what political changes may come in 2016?
I co-chair the Internet Innovation Alliance because of a commitment to seeing more people in communities, such as the one where I grew up in Detroit, participate in the global technology revolution. Students need access to the best technology at school and at home to get up to competitive speed with their peers around the world. Mobile devices can help families get health care services that may be more difficult to access because of the dearth of facilities in low-income and rural communities. Entrepreneurs need access to global markets from wherever they are.
Ensuring we don’t discriminate in digital access is a core value when it comes to closing the opportunity gap. Government is an important partner in maintaining order in the marketplace, but maintaining an environment that encourages public and private investment in broadband availability and helps entrepreneurs maintain the flexibility to build great companies is critical.
It’s rare that Democrats and Republicans can agree on the substance of any matter, but there is great agreement on the principals of an open Internet. Companies, activists and political leaders from both parties want to make sure companies can’t pay for special treatment and consumers have high speed, reliable access to the Internet that can’t be blocked or slowed down. Let’s focus on the core values in common and write a law that will protect consumers while giving companies the ability to innovate without setting ourselves up for years of lawsuits and political wrangling. The people who need access to this valuable resource can’t wait for Washington power brokers to battle it out in the courts.
Originally published at US News