The traditional view of communications as segregated services – phone lines, television, and radio – is coming to an end, as all of them move to the Internet. Phone calls are taking place using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Cable and broadcast TV run through broadband lines and compete with online streaming video. Radio is moving to the web and smartphone applications. While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has levied burdensome regulation on all these traditional forms of communications, part of the reason the Internet has flourished is because the FCC has had no regulatory authority over it. A lack of heavy regulation has allowed the Internet ecosphere – the tech, telecom, and web companies that built it – to be dynamic and innovative. With very little authority to regulate our future communications system, the FCC is undergoing an existential crisis, looking at every possible way to shackle the Internet with new regulation.
In December 2010, after years of debate, the Commission passed Network Neutrality Internet regulations. The rule opens the door for the FCC to regulate how Internet service providers manage data traffic – your emails, videos, and phone calls – on their networks to prevent congestion. The policy is poised to decrease investment in broadband expansion and adoption, increase data congestion, and take the first step toward turning the nation’s Internet into a public utility; a network of government regulated “dumb pipes.” The regulations are likely to be challenged by a strongly opposed Congress or the courts in the coming year.
While the FCC looks to regulate the Internet, localities across the country are looking to supplant the private sector by building out Internet networks themselves. Known as “Muni-WiFi”, government run Internet is costly to taxpayers and highly inefficient. Creating a “public option” for the Internet doesn’t create competition; it uses taxpayer money to undercut the private sector and put the government in charge of Internet connections.