Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai recently released his draft “Restoring Internet Freedom” order detailing his plan to roll back Title II regulations. The ensuing debate has been overtaken by hyperbole, and several important points about preserving an open internet are getting lost in the rhetoric. Public interest groups, internet companies and internet service providers all agree: We need to preserve an open internet. But many of us believe we can preserve an open internet and protect consumers without the misguided utility regulations that were imposed on it.
The FCC is not ending net neutrality. Instead, FCC Chairman Pai has proposed returning to the policy framework under which the internet experienced nearly two decades of unprecedented innovation and investment.
Let’s remember, in 2015 the FCC ignored years of successful bipartisan consensus by implementing utility-style regulations, known as Title II, on the nation’s internet networks.
The adverse effects of Title II utility regulations have been evident during the past two years as investment in broadband infrastructure fell by more than $4 billion. If preventing harm to consumers is the primary concern, consider that utility regulations also discourage creative experimentation in new products and services and ultimately slow technological advancements.
Regulators might have had good intentions back in 2015, but there are better ways to ensure an open internet without the broad application of outdated rules. Despite the unfortunately overheated rhetoric around this issue in recent years, the truth is that we can have an open internet without ill-suited public utility regulations, which only wreck what makes the internet so great – a force of innovation that connects people and improves lives.
What’s more, the broadband industry has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to open internet principles of no blocking of legal content, no throttling, no unfair discrimination, and continued transparency in its customer practices.
Under Chairman Pai’s proposal, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will be empowered to enforce those commitments and protect consumers, as the FTC successfully did for years before utility regulations were imposed. In addition, state attorneys general have the authority and duty to continue to protect consumers by bringing claims against service providers that fail to meet their commitments.
The FCC’s actions will not change Americans’ ability to access and use the internet as they do every day. Consumers will still be able to enjoy whatever they want online, when they want, where they want and however they want.
Harold Ford Jr. is a former U.S. representative from Tennessee and honorary chairman of Broadband for America.