Another summer, another round of debate over so-called net neutrality. It is remarkable because there has been so much back-and-forth inside the Beltway the past few years—even though the internet blossomed for its first 25 years without politicians addressing it much at all. Congress needs to end this game of political football and find a long-term solution.
It would be a comical situation were it not for the uncertainty it creates for investors. They left their money on the sidelines after 2015, representing the first decline in internet investment outside of a recession. 2015 happened to be the year when the Obama Administration started regulating internet service providers (ISPs) like public utilities under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, a law that was written to address the growing networks of landline telephones.
Fortunately, the current Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, abandoned this approach in 2017 in favor of a light-touch regulatory environment he believed would encourage innovation. But now Democrats in Congress have resurrected net neutrality once again, choosing to pander to their liberal base by threatening to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn Chairman Pai’s decision.
This isn’t leadership; it’s just lazy. Congress should not retrofit antiquated laws to impose on modern issues; if it identifies a contemporary problem, ostensibly like net neutrality, then it should go through the actual effort of devising a contemporary, bipartisan legislative solution. Lawmaking is supposed to be hard because the Founders didn’t want unnecessary laws—or regulations by fiat.
As a writer and advocate, I talk with small-business owners regularly, including those in rural Washington state. Many of them are concerned that the regulatory red tape will create an environment far too complex for small startups and independent ISPs to compete.
As a result, it will be more and more difficult to build their networks and expand into underserved communities like rural America. In fact, 10 percent of all Americans and nearly 40 percent of rural Americans lack access to high-speed broadband capable of 25 Mbps or more.
That’s the real problem, not conspiracy theories about fast lanes and slow lanes. There is widespread agreement among the major ISPs that users should be able to go wherever they like online without fear of selective discrimination against different websites, internet traffic, or data. But heavy net neutrality restrictions are unnecessary, especially the preposterous public utility rules, and few things are truly as neutral as a free marketplace without government interference.
We need a law that ensures lasting open internet protections without the harms of utility-style regulations, one that will provide consistency for consumers and business certainty for investors, and is crafted to deal with specific factors unique to the internet.
Let’s have the debate; let’s hear from the on-the-ground stakeholders—all of them. Last summer, we heard from plenty of internet industry insiders on the matter. In fact, tech giants leveraged their considerable political clout to organize a “Day of Action” to demonstrate in favor of the 2015 decision. The only problem is, relatively few real people showed up. This time, let’s hear from real people.
In the meantime, the CRA has moved to the U.S. House of Representatives. In order to keep the economy growing and innovation on the rise, they must vote “no” on this misguided legislation.