On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on the Proposal to Restore Internet Freedom to decide if the U.S. will return to its 2015 regulatory framework. Below are several op-eds that we hope you find informative and fair to the subject.
- Morning Consult, Paul Beaudry and Martin Masse
Ultimately, the real debate going on in the United States is not about whether internet providers should be allowed to block content or throttle internet connections. Everybody – including major internet providers themselves – agree that such practices are unacceptable. Rather, the debate is about whether broadband should be regulated via strict preventive rules, which have proven costly and often stifle innovation, or via a light-touch regulatory regime that can adapt to new business models and technological change. Chairman Pai, who once promised to “fire up the weed whacker” and get rid of rules that impede investment, innovation and job creation, has wisely chosen the latter approach.
- Financial Post, Paul Beaudry and Martin Masse
The fears are overblown. Unwinding the 2015 “open internet” order will be good for the American economy and consumers, while allowing the U.S. to remain a global broadband leader.
While current net-neutrality regulations have only been on the books for two years, they have already negatively impacted the U.S. broadband market by creating regulatory uncertainty and reducing incentives to invest in next-generation broadband infrastructure. Broadband network investment has fallen more than 5.6 per cent since the FCC’s 2015 net-neutrality decision, the first such decline outside of a recessionary period.
Notably, Pai’s proposal would remove the vaguely worded “general conduct standard” rule. The FCC had previously deployed this rule, without clear evidence of consumer or competitive harm, to clamp down on offerings such as “zero-rating,” where internet providers do not charge for data used by specific applications or services.
- The Daily Caller, Tony Clark
However, while the comments on the FCC proposal are generally supportive of a clear national framework, a handful of commenters do suggest certain state and localities still itch for a chance to spread their regulatory wings. What the FCC may hope to achieve by reasserting a regulatory “light touch” could be just as easily lost to a steady drumbeat of state and local regulations that undercut the internet freedom proposal itself.
State and local governments have an important — and often primary — role to play in certain aspects of regulation, consumer protection, and public policy. But that reality should not obscure the fact that sometimes not only is a national framework the legally appropriate approach, it is also the one that best advances the public interest. While the FCC is working to create an appropriate broadband regulatory environment, it should not neglect to clearly establish internet access as a national regime, not subject to a slow-moving avalanche of outdates state and local utility regulations not well-suited to the internet age.
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Thom Lambert
First, it’s important to understand what a policy of net neutrality entails. In essence, it prevents ISPs from providing faster or better transmission of some internet content, even where the favored content provider is willing to pay for prioritization.
That sounds benign — laudable, even — until one considers all that such a policy prevents. Under strict net neutrality, an ISP couldn’t prioritize content transmission in which congestion delays ruin the user experience (say, an internet videoconference between a telemedicine system operated by the University of Missouri hospital and a rural resident of Dent County) over transmissions in which delays are less detrimental (say, downloads from a photo-sharing site).
Strict net neutrality would also preclude a mobile broadband provider from exempting popular content providers from data caps. Indeed, T-Mobile was hauled before the FCC to justify its popular “Binge On” service, which offered cost-conscious subscribers unlimited access to Netflix, ESPN and HBO.
- Truth on the Market, Thom Lambert
As I explain in my new book, How to Regulate, sound regulation requires thinking like a doctor. When addressing some “disease” that reduces social welfare, policymakers should catalog the available “remedies” for the problem, consider the implementation difficulties and “side effects” of each, and select the remedy that offers the greatest net benefit.
If we followed that approach in deciding what to do about the way Internet Service Providers (ISPs) manage traffic on their networks, we would conclude that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is exactly right: The FCC should reverse its order classifying ISPs as common carriers (Title II classification) and leave matters of non-neutral network management to antitrust, the residual regulator of practices that may injure competition.
- Prior Probability, Enrique Guerra-Pujol
Remember the Y2K Problem? Looks like we can add “the lack of net neutrality” to the list of terrible worries that were overblown or never materialized. Back in 2006, for example, our libertarian friend and colleague Tyler Cowen supported the policy of net neutrality: “Without neutrality, Comcast and Verizon would use differential pricing schemes to extract more revenue and thus diminish some forms of Net output, including Google, Amazon, ebay, and possibly blogs.” (See here, for a full list of Prof Cowen’s reasons in support of net neutrality.) Today (2017), however, after examining some evidence, Prof Cowen has now concluded that net neutrality is no longer a necessary evil: “we’re at the point where we’ll do just fine without it.” For our part, our position is that antitrust law, not telecommunications law, should be used to police Internet markets.