The Internet has grown and flourished for more than 20 years without burdensome federal regulations. Absent government roadblocks that could hold up progress, the Internet has been able to evolve and rapidly advance as technology develops. Along with it, business development and job creation, spurred by web-based innovation, have been strengthened by a free market-oriented environment. Unfortunately, this could soon change because of new Internet regulations issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a three-to-two party line vote on December 21, 2010.
The new rules represent an unprecedented power-grab by the unelected members of the FCC, to whom Congress has delegated very limited authority to act in the area of broadband services. This unaccountable group of regulators is creating authority to intervene in an area that represents one-sixth of the nation’s economy. The move installs a government arbiter to force their idea of how the Internet should be run on users and the companies that are trying to make broadband access available to Americans throughout the nation.
The public is largely happy with the way the Internet currently works – as a private resource. The FCC action is a solution in search of a problem.
The FCC’s proposed regulations are particularly concerning because they would impose new directives onto communications companies that will stifle the Internet’s well-known and successful spirit of innovation. Heavy-handed regulations threaten investment in broadband Internet services, which could place valuable American jobs at risk. And any downturn in investment will limit the next evolution of this technology. Businesses would be less likely to build out advanced next generation wireless broadband networks or to bring high-speed Internet services to rural communities because they cannot be certain their investments would be successful.
Investment could further languish because businesses will constantly fear violating vague and fluctuating Internet regulations. One of those murky rules under the FCC’s new regulations states that providers may not "unreasonably discriminate" against lawful internet traffic. On its face, that sounds like a laudable goal – but, as with most government regulations, the devil is in the details. The term is ambiguously defined in the order, and how the FCC interprets and enforces what is "reasonable" will determine how limiting this restriction is.
The "unreasonable discrimination" order would in effect establish that the FCC would have an approval portal that companies must pass through just to manage their day-to-day operations. For instance, if a provider notices that a small number of users are sharing huge file dumps that are leading to congestion on the network, it should have the right to slow down those connections in order to relieve the congestion for the vast majority of users. But under the FCC’s new regulations, unelected government regulators could determine that such an action is "unreasonable." By diminishing companies’ flexibility in managing their own networks, the regulation could also undermine Internet providers’ ability to guarantee subscribers high quality service.
The FCC’s primary argument for these new rules is to ensure that Internet customers are not blocked by service providers from viewing or sending lawful content of their choice. Again, on the surface, this seems perfectly reasonable. However, this is already the reality of today’s open Internet environment. Broadband providers currently support consumers accessing the content of their choice and using devices and applications they desire. This is because the free market system has worked. Burdensome government meddling is not needed.
The FCC has not provided any evidence to justify this regulatory overreach. In fact, the Internet has developed and thrived precisely because it has not been weighed down with oppressive government regulations. We must preserve the openness of the Internet as a platform for innovation and economic growth without a preemptive regulatory intervention by the government. Government regulation of the Internet is not in anyone’s interest. Fighting this overreach will be one of my top priorities in the coming year. I will work to halt these regulatory burdens and explore other efforts to reform the FCC in the 112