Since President Biden’s inauguration, the Federal Communications Commission has operated in a bipartisan way with two Democratic members and one Republican member. The FCC, under the leadership of Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, has made significant progress in advancing several items that will benefit Americans and improve the availability of the next generation telecommunications. The key proceedings completed by the bipartisan commission are improving and promoting the reliable access to the 988 Crisis and Suicide Lifeline Number, working to improve the efforts to stop robocalls and fulfilling the statutory requirements to update broadband maps in order to determine where hundreds billions of funding dollars is most needed. It also includes helping Americans to increase their chance to be connected with broadband through the Affordable Connectivity program, and reviewing spectrum availability for licensed and nonlicensed uses to help key-up the next set auctions when Congress restores its auction After Anna Gomez is confirmed by the Senate on September 7, 2023, it’s important that the FCC continues to work with the Republican majority and develop policies that won’t impede innovation or the U.S. leadership in global telecommunications. This means that there should be no effort to revive or impose the so-called “net neutrality” rules. In today’s competitive and vibrant broadband market, such regulations are unnecessary. To restore them would be to find a solution for a problem. Since the first public internet access, there has been a concept called network neutrality. Michael Powell, then Chairman of the FCC, outlined four principles for internet freedom in 2004: freedom to access legal content on the Internet, freedom to use apps and devices connected to the network as well as freedom to get information about service plans. In 2005, the FCC adopted these four principles in its Internet Policy Statement. After adopting these principles, internet access and innovation increased for the next ten years. Congress and the Clinton Administration in 1996 agreed to regulate internet regulation with a light hand. In 2015, the then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler implemented a policy that was significant, untested and ultimately harmful. The Open Internet Order changed the status of internet service providers as information services to heavily regulated common carriers, subject to Title II of 1934’s Communications Act, which was written for dial-up phones. The Open Internet Order slowed capital investment by 20 percent during the two-year period they were in place and delayed new broadband deployment. The Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies conducted an economic analysis in March 2017. It found that, while service providers continue to invest in new network, broadband investments were reduced between 2011 and 2015. This was because the White House, under President Obama, pushed the FCC towards Title II regulations. Investments and innovation are reduced when the government increases regulations on an industry. After President Trump’s election in 2016, the FCC changed from having a 3-2 Democratic to a 3-3 Republican majority. The FCC, under then-Chairman Ajit Pay, adopted the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. This reclassified internet to a service of information, as it was classified before the Open Internet Order. The FCC adopted the Restoring Internet Freedom Order under then-Chairman Ajit Pai, which reclassified the internet back to an information service. This is what it had always been prior to when Open Internet Order was in force. In addition, these innovations allowed new technologies to emerge that enabled the use of mobile wireless, fixed-wireless, and satellite to provide broadband. This increased competition in a space already highly competitive.
However now that the 3-2 Democratic majorities has been restored there are fears that the FCC may re-impose its heavy hand through rate setting and by requiring that new broadband builds be owned by the government or setting preferences for this. They also fear that they will reinstate net neutrality restrictions to internet service providers under the pretext of “increased market competition”. FCC shouldn’t be focusing on re-implementing failed, heavy-handed regulations on an industry which is constantly changing. The FCC should not focus on reinstating failed heavy-handed regulations in an industry that is constantly evolving. Instead, they should continue bipartisan work done since January 20, 21 and ensure that those without broadband access and who want it are finally connected.
Deborah Collier is executive director of CAGW’s Innovation and Technology Policy Center (ITPC).
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