Do you remember, more than half a decade ago, when a massive, nationwide campaign of fear seemed to convince millions of Americans that the internet would start loading one word at a time? time? Yet doomsday predictions about the end of the internet did not come true when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reinstated the 2015 Open Internet Order that it said “provided net neutrality.”
The move has sparked widespread outrage despite the fact that it simply reinstates the light-touch regulatory framework that the internet has built and evolved under over the past 30 years. One result of the net neutrality hysteria was the passage of the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018.
Maybe this all sounds like ancient history. As we know, instead of loading one word at a time, the internet has evolved. Speeds have increased dramatically while costs have decreased. The networks have also shown their resilience, especially during the pandemic. While our European counterparts struggle to manage massive increases in traffic and usage throughout COVID, the United States has avoided the service reductions and throttling faced by many European countries. However, the net neutrality debate has been reignited by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
In a recent announcement, the agency proposed a new rule to reimpose old, utility-style regulation of internet service providers (ISPs) — and California’s net neutrality law. is at the heart of the argument. During his speech, Rosenworcel pointed to the proliferation of state-level laws like the one in California as the reason the wildest predictions about the demise of the internet have not come true. But the truth is that net neutrality laws only seem to be effective because they try to solve a problem that doesn’t exist yet.
Despite Rosenworcel’s assertion that “we have open internet policies that providers follow now, they’re just from Sacramento and places like this,” there is no evidence to suggest that net neutrality legislation in California has an impact on ISP behavior. Even before the enactment of the law, we didn’t see the blocking and throttling that net neutrality advocates advocated. Nor have we seen ISPs charged with violations of the California law in the five years since it was enacted.
Rosenworcel argued that the federal government should adopt net neutrality laws in states like California. But the FCC does not have the authority to enforce rules like net neutrality, and Congress is best suited to address the issue through legislation. But even if lawmakers wrestle with such rules, there is little evidence to support them. Congress has rightly focused on increasing broadband access instead.
In fact, the bipartisan infrastructure legislation passed in the last Congress contains one of the largest investments in both broadband infrastructure and capacity to date. Yet the administration, through the FCC, is working against its own interests by erecting regulatory barriers that harm broadband deployment. As shown in the FCC’s official report, broadband deployment decreased by 55 percent after the implementation of the 2015 Open Internet Order.
Rosenworcel noted in his announcement that “nearly half of us lack high-speed service with 100 megabit-per-second download speeds or can only get it from one provider.” Yet this is a broadband deployment issue, not a net neutrality issue. And Rosenworcel failed to add that this misguided regulatory change has the opposite of its intended effect and is likely to reduce speed and competition among internet providers.
Despite overwhelming evidence supporting the continuation of the light-touch regulatory framework that has been in place since the Restoring Internet Freedom Order was issued in 2017, the FCC is reigniting a fierce battle over who should regulate the internet. However, even the agency itself seems to sense that it is on shaky ground.
Despite its usefulness as a buzzword to create fear, net neutrality was not even the focus of the FCC’s action. They use the familiar term like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, disguising their attempt to impose a regulatory framework that will give them new power over the internet. The internet has evolved into an important part of society because of a framework for innovation without permission. However, the FCC is throwing the baby out with the bathwater by seeking to intervene in the thriving ecosystem under the guise of net neutrality, national security, public safety and privacy.
The FCC stands at a crossroads. It can pursue bipartisan priorities and work to bridge the digital divide, or chase ghosts by threatening to implement a federal version of California’s unnecessary net neutrality law — harming future broadband deployments. Continuing to fix an unnecessary partisan project when the real need is to get the benefits connected to the American people whether the FCC, the Biden administration, or the people whose access to broadband hanging in the balance.
Jonathan Cannon is policy advisor for technology and innovation at the R Street Institute. Canyon Brimhall is the senior manager of federal government affairs at the R Street Institute