Unless you live under a rock or avoid social media, you’ve probably seen that the controversy around net neutrality has re-entered our lives like an obnoxious uncle at Thanksgiving dinner. This holiday season might bring good tidings, but it also drags in heated protests against the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) upcoming vote to repeal “Open Internet” regulation of the internet. The FCC is proposing to undo its own 2015 reclassification of last-mile internet service as a Title II “telecommunications” service. The vote is set for December 14, but the order subject to the vote was published this week.
ACT | The App Association has always been a strong defender of Net Neutrality principles. We believe that the government should outlaw the practice by an internet service provider (ISP) of blocking or slowing down (throttling) otherwise lawful content. Is regulating every ISP as a utility the best way to preserve the internet as a platform for free speech, commerce and innovation? Clearly, a system of rules written in the 1930s, revamped in 1996, and subject to differing interpretations depending on who is in power is not the best way to protect these important principles. We believe that the bedrock open internet principles should not be subject to the whims of varying administrations.
This means we should find a way to restrict the FCC’s discretion when it comes to the open internet. A short history lesson on this is instructive. The 2015 decision to classify ISP service as a utility brought with it several regulations unrelated to the principles that are usually associated with net neutrality. At the time, the Democratic majority of the FCC decided to “forbear” from enforcing these regulations, but because the service was completely reclassified, the regulations could be enforced down the road. These types of regulations are typical where the government creates or maintains monopolies, and serve to reduce competition in order to protect a single service provider. I am not aware of anyone arguing that these regulations do anything to advance the interests we all have in an open internet. And by deterring competition, they remove the most powerful protection we have against ISP malfeasance. Worse still, these requirements are open to reinterpretation by each new administration, causing the internet’s regulatory regime to vary widely depending on the administration’s party.
This is where Congress must step in, to ensure that the FCC cannot a) remove net neutrality requirements and b) impose non-net neutrality regulations that would ultimately degrade competition. As fixed wireless via 5G service gains a foothold in markets around the country, wireline broadband will face increased competition.
Now is the time to enshrine net neutrality principles. Legislation should include a prohibition on blocking, throttling, and unreasonable discrimination of lawful content (while still allowing certain forms of reasonable discrimination for services like VoIP, telemedicine, and emergency services). But it should also include transparency requirements so that consumers and the FCC understand the broadband service they subscribe to and can hold ISPs to account.
We will continue to defend the principles of net neutrality. We know Congress has an important role to play in crafting permanent legislation to define internet infrastructure. I encourage you to join us in directing our passion and energy to the congressional committees that oversee the FCC, and urge them to draft legislation to codify open internet requirements in statute.