Recently there have been a handful of news stories lamenting the end of the Internet as we know it. The truth is that the Internet is stronger than ever, the stalwart principles that protect it are firmly in place and the ecosystem comprised of innovators, engineers, policy-makers, investors and users is working to assure its health and growth for the future.
It must be one of our most basic instincts, to protect what we love, including the lifeline of resources and economic security and prosperity that is the Internet. We all want to access the information, products, and services that we need, and we want to do that from wherever we are and as quickly as possible. Increased choices for how we access the Internet – wired and wireless broadband – coupled with the principle of the Open Internet, mean we have a growing number of opportunities to get online and that all online traffic is treated equally once we’re there.
In a fortuitous collision of critical topics that impact the Internet and access to the Internet, there was an FCC meeting last month that included the Open Internet on the agenda, as well as the upcoming spectrum auction. At stake: getting online as well as your experience once you’re there. The FCC will be formalizing rules that are imagined to impact what happens once a person is online: Internet content, and access to that content. At the same meeting, the FCC voted on bidding rules for the spectrum auction scheduled for mid-2015, destined to impact the ability of a person to get online (wirelessly) at all.
Despite the sturm und drang, the values of the Open Internet are widely respected and valued. Formally preserving rules that would ensure that no one could restrict innovation, regulate content or applications or create so-called fast or slow lanes is a good thing for the Internet.
The irony is that the values of the Open Internet, which aren’t controversial, were on the agenda with bidding rules for the spectrum auction, which for tech-followers and insiders, has been a little more spicy. At the pending auction, companies that provide wireless service will have a chance to obtain more of the essential airwaves needed to strengthen and expand mobile networks – a popular service for a rapidly growing number of consumers. This issue didn’t get nearly the same amount of attention or press as the Open Internet, which is unfortunate, because of the topics on the agenda that day that have impact on your daily use of the Internet – the wireless spectrum and its distribution is far more impactful.
Washington State has shown consistent leadership in the wireless economy and I think we have a clearer sense than many about the necessity of spectrum to feed our wireless habits. Outdated, overloaded wireless network infrastructure means that many consumers contend with dropped calls, poor coverage, slow speeds, and stalled applications. And consider this: Consumer demand is growing in leaps and bounds, and new innovations are developed nearly every day. We’re all hungry for spectrum, and the auctions are vital for everyone.
It’s the spirit of freedom and innovation that empowers new choices for consumers in the marketplace and allows us to customize and create our Internet experience – wired or wireless. There are no tolls when you are online. Under a regime of openness and innovation, the Internet delivers immeasurable benefits to consumers and enables forward-thinking scientists and entrepreneurs to launch often-revolutionary advancements.
It’s why the anticipation not only of what we do now, but what we will do in the future is so critical when it comes to Internet policy. Whether it’s rules that codify the Open Internet or rules that ensure a fair spectrum auction, the lens through which all regulation that impacts technology should be viewed is one that modernizes what is already in place to ensure innovation and progress. In fact, the only real threat to the Internet is from a regulatory approach that is heavy-handed, ignorant of marketplace realities or obsolete. Modern public policy should meet the needs of everyone who is so dependent on the Internet – and at this point, by my count, that’s most of us.