The fight over protecting the Internet has only gotten more intense after the Inauguration of Donald Trump and appointment of Ajit Pai as Federal Communications Commission chairman. Chairman Pai has proposed flipping the rules back from previous FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s imposition of Title II. This is the third attempt at regulating the Internet in the last few years. Former Obama FCC Chair Julius Genachowski reached a compromise in 2010 that was overturned by the courts. Unless Congress enacts a legislative solution, the nation can only expect the next FCC chair to impose yet another regime.
Enough is enough. Activists organizing against Chairman Pai’s rules, who argue for Net Neutrality, should demand Congress take this fight into its own hands and protect an open internet with bipartisan legislation.
Chairman Pai will easily have the ability to impose his will. The numbers are on his side. It is extraordinarily unlikely that Net Neutrality advocates will get him to change his mind. Title II was created in the 1930’s to regulate utilities like the old Ma Bell phone monopoly. Using those rules on a vital information service like the Internet is fraught with peril. Title II threatened continued investment. The rules, which can be changed by any FCC majority, could limit innovators from offering new ideas. Without continued investment and innovation, consumers will ultimately have limited choices.
Title II is not the only way to protect the Internet. Chairman Genachowski’s compromise achieved all of the same goals without imposing utility-style regulation. Companies, regulators and consumers had reached détente on most of the hot button issues. The Internet Service Providers didn’t block sites, throttle speeds, or impose fast lanes. And investors, innovators and providers got regulatory certainty without onerous regulation. Neither ISPs, activists, nor content creators got everything they wanted, but they lived by the deal. Congress should seek a legislative solution that enshrines these customs and sets clear rules of the road, removing uncertainty for everybody.
Without a legislative solution, activists should worry that we are about to enter the Wild West, with uncertainty over where regulatory jurisdiction lies. Instead those who are concerned about this issue should look to restore the old system using Congressional action.
Today, everyone should take a timeout and send a message to Congress asking them to act. For years, telecom legislation was bipartisan. Republicans in Congress are in charge today but that may not be true two years from now. Democrats have already seen a surprise upset take the FCC majority from them. It’s time to get off the roller coaster. Both parties should act to protect their priorities and protect a vibrant, robust broadband ecosystem.
Symbolic protests are important. We have seen movements grow and force change from reluctant officials. This time, people who care about protecting the Internet from anti-competitive practices don’t have to settle for symbolism. While many political leaders have dug into camps on these issues, not looking for bipartisan solutions activists can do something to achieve these goals. Voters can use the Day of Action to make a difference. Tell leaders of both parties to protect an open Internet with bipartisan legislation.