COLUMN: No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet
We live in an astounding time of technological progress, during the “Information Age.” Since the 1990s, the internet has flourished and created a digital marketplace, revolutionizing the world economy and the way commerce is conducted. Private enterprise has developed an incredible number of innovative services for millions of consumers. Keeping the internet free from government micromanagement and open to innovation for years to come must be a top priority.
Turn back the clock for a moment to 1934, which is the year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was instituted as an independent federal agency charged with regulating activities in forms of communication and media at the time. The primary electronic communications for Americans in 1934 were telephones and radio. Today, more than eighty years later with many technological leaps, the internet has changed the way Americans communicate and participate in the global economy.
Federal regulators simply have not been able to keep up with the breakneck pace of technology, leaving the internet largely open to private innovation. In fact, many would contend this environment has allowed the internet to flourish. Regrettably, the FCC has responded by attempting to expand the government’s jurisdiction over internet access by writing rules to classify the internet under the same rules as older forms of communication. In 2015, the FCC reclassified broadband as a “telecommunications service” under the Communications Act of 1934, which gave the agency the ability to use its trafficking authority to regulate the rates that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can charge for their services. That FCC action is currently being challenged in federal court as a federal power grab.
No industry should have rates dictated by the federal government. In the free market, rates are set in response to supply and demand, not a central authority or government agency. When it comes to broadband, that means ISPs should engage in vigorous competition and be held accountable to their consumers for fast service and affordable rates, but that does not mean putting unelected federal bureaucrats in charge of rates. Regulators should provide what certainty they can within lawful—and limited—jurisdiction.
The current Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, has said that the agency currently has no interest in regulating broadband internet access rates. In fact, during a congressional hearing in 2015, Chairman Wheeler said, “Our goal is not to have rate regulation….If Congress wants to come along and say, ‘That’s off the table for the next commission too,’ I have no difficulty with that.” Last Friday, I voted in favor of H.R. 2666, No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act to keep the FCC to its word. The legislation would prevent the FCC from micromanaging broadband rates and access. With H.R. 2666, Congress is simply taking rate regulation off the table for the FCC. Congress should to keep the FCC in line and the internet innovative.