February is going to be a big month for Net Neutrality. Following a public request by the president, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that he will circulate a new rule on February 5th among the five FCC chairmen. The Commission will then hold a vote on whether to release the rule on February 26th.
We won’t know the precise details of the rule until it is released, but Wheeler has made it clear that he intends to reclassify internet service providers as public utilities under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This would give the FCC the authority to enact internet regulations that have repeatedly been struck down by courts as being outside the agency’s purview. Among other things, Title II regulation would allow the government to dictate the terms of internet service, and require providers to pay into a universal service fund, increasing costs to consumers in the process. For an in-depth analysis of the effects of Title II reclassification, see FreedomWorks’ Issue Analysis on the subject.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are attempting to preempt the FCC by drafting legislation to officially classify internet service providers as exempt from the FCC’s authority over utilities. This sounds nice, but in order to gain political support, the proposal makes a number of unacceptable concessions to the FCC’s demands for Net Neutrality enforcement—the very thing Republicans have always opposed.
We are now left in the uncomfortable position of having a Republican compromise that is almost as bad as the FCC’s original proposal. By ratcheting up the stakes and threatening Title II regulation, Wheeler has gotten Congress to agree to Net Neutrality as a politically feasible lesser of two evils.
Since its inception, the internet has been largely unregulated, and the resulting freedom has allowed new business models—even whole new industries—to flourish in a way never before seen. Not only are Net Neutrality regulations unnecessary, but they are actively harmful to internet freedom and the economic possibilities of the future.
Preserving the freedom and flexibility of internet providers is vital to maintain the kind of creativity and innovation we have seen in just the last twenty years. The Republican compromise isn’t a compromise at all, but rather a cave in to the special interests who want to be able to dictate the business models of private companies to serve their own ends.
This February, everyone concerned about internet freedom should be ready to keep a close eye on both the FCC and Congress, and be ready to send a loud and clear message that internet regulation is not the answer.