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The FCC’s recent decision to reclassify the internet as a utility is ruffling some feathers, but not the ones you might expect. The Federal Communications Commission, acting under orders from the president, has been largely successful in representing its decision as a matter of Net Neutrality, of regulating the specific ways in which service providers can manage bandwidth.
While most conservatives oppose Net Neutrality itself, the changes the FCC is now making go much further - so far, in fact, that many supporters of Net Neutrality as a concept are upset at the Commission’s overreach.
For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a vocal Net Neutrality supporter, expressed concerns over the FCC’s ruling:
But now we face the really hard part: making sure the FCC doesn’t abuse its authority.
For example, the new rules include a “general conduct rule” that will let the FCC take action against ISP practices that don’t count as blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization. As we said last week and last year, vague rules are a problem. The FCC wants to be, in Chairman Wheeler’s words, “a referee on the field” who can stop any ISP action that it thinks “hurts consumers, competition, or innovation.” The problem with a rule this vague is that neither ISPs nor Internet users can know in advance what kinds of practices will run afoul of the rule. Only companies with significant legal staff and expertise may be able to use the rule effectively. And a vague rule gives the FCC an awful lot of discretion, potentially giving an unfair advantage to parties with insider influence. That means our work is not yet done. We must stay vigilant, and call out FCC overreach.
The actual order is over 300 pages long, and it’s not widely available yet. Details matter.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is another group that supports Net Neutrality as a concept, but opposes the FCC’s overreach.
Rushing to regulate the Internet threatens to slow down broadband investment, and reduces competition among providers, which helps keep broadband costs low. Recent legislative proposals from Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) would protect the free and open Internet, while also encouraging the investment and competition necessary to keep the Internet growing and thriving. We hope the FCC and Congress will now work together to take a U-turn and reach a balanced and bipartisan compromise that includes deploying additional spectrum and ensuring Americans have open and robust Internet access.
We are disappointed the Commission chose this route, which is certain to lead to years of litigation and regulatory uncertainty and may greatly harm investment and innovation, when the use of Section 706 alone would have provided a much more certain and legally sustainable path.
Reasonable people can debate the relative merits of Net Neutrality, but what is clear is that the FCC’s new regulations go too far, and endanger the unlimited potential of a free and unregulated internet.
Of course, FreedomWorks continues to oppose any and all efforts for government regulation of the internet, the most remarkable source for innovation and entrepreneurship the world has ever seen.