The Federal Communications Commission, in a bold move that breaks from a tradition of secrecy, released the text of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order (RIF) weeks before they plan to vote on the final order at their December meeting. RIF will return the classification of Internet service providers (ISPs) to being a Title I information service. This would undo the destructive work of the Obama FCC and restore light-touch regulations that played a major role in the internet’s growth in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Removing fanatical and cumbersome regulations will allow the internet to continue to evolve and grow the world economy, but that isn’t stopping ideologues from doing all they can to prevent this reclassification from taking place.
The primary way protesters are going about undermining the FCC’s vote are by muddying the waters about what would happen because of the reclassification. By framing the upcoming vote as undoing “net neutrality” and leaving it at that, protesters narrowly and disingenuously define what net neutrality even is.
“Net neutrality” means an open and free internet, where winners and losers aren’t picked by regulators or organizations with extensive clout in the market. That is not the case under the FCC’s current classification of Internet service providers as a Title II public utility. Under this classification, government restrictions on Internet service providers “[tilt] the marketplace to favor a few, but not all, edge service providers” and put competing internet companies under different regulations and regulators.
Putting Internet service providers under Title II restrictions – regulations crafted for the Bell Telephone company in the 1930s – leaves the possibility of heavy-handed public utility regulations being implemented at the FCC’s whim – even measures as extreme as rate regulation and tariffing. The potential for utility-like control being imposed by a future FCC has already stifled an estimated 35 billion dollars per year in investment by Internet service providers since reclassification to Title II was proposed in 2010 – money that could have instead gone toward infrastructure investment and bridging the digital divide in rural America.
Net neutrality existed for years before the Obama FCC implemented Title II. Undoing Title II restrictions will not cause ISPs to suddenly block applications such as Netflix and Skype because it makes little economic sense to do that, despite what protesters say.
Title II regulation of Internet service providers is just one misguided government control of an incredibly fractured market. Title II control of ISPs is so flawed at achieving “net neutrality,” that for all its regulatory destruction, it cannot stop the more news-worthy internet manipulation by tech firms such as Google and Facebook.
Of course, events such as these have only caused Title II ideologues to call for more regulation and more government control of non-ISP firms that interact via the internet. The regulatory behemoth that would be required for public-utility oversight for something the magnitude of the internet – the internet comprises roughly 6% of the US economy – shows how illogical net neutrality via Title II truly is.
There is a natural incentive for internet firms to increase the size of their market by getting their internet services to as many people as possible. Letting private actors develop the growing internet marketplace to meet consumer demand without having to always ask for government permission is critical to getting more Americans better internet coverage, more services, and faster speeds.
Over the past year, the FCC has taken great steps to update its regulatory policies to reflect the modern technology landscape. Restoring internet freedom is another important step to ensuring that future technological advancements, like the Internet of things and 5G mobile networks, will not be bogged down by bureaucrats, ideologues, and 80-year-old tech policy.