The Federal Communications Commission is expected to take action later this year on its “Restoring Internet Freedom” order. This important proposal seeks to roll back the Obama administration’s reclassification of the internet as a Title II, public utility style service under the guise of protecting network neutrality. But despite what Title II supporters claim, network neutrality does not depend on Title II regulation. Instead, Title II provides an overly blunt way to enforce rules at a terrible cost to network investment and innovation.
This debate has fueled a political ping-pong match for more than a decade. Enough is enough! Returning the internet to its Title I roots will allow America’s broadband capabilities to truly flourish the way they’re meant to and will deliver economic benefits that are significant in scale and last through future generations.
Everyone in today’s exploding digital economy — from midsized companies like Prysmian Group to large edge companies and internet service providers — agrees it is important to preserve net neutrality or an open internet. Which is why the debate about whether to apply Title II regulatory authority is so unnecessary.
Since Chairman Ajit Pai’s announced intentions to roll back the Obama-era Title II regulations earlier this year, there have been many false arguments made in the name of preserving net neutrality. For example, opponents of Title II are often publicly flogged and accused of wanting to push an internet policy agenda that is less inclusive, less competitive and less equal to all. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The issue here is Title II and how it was rammed through the regulatory process to appease a very small subset of politicians and netroots activists who believed government overregulation was the best way to dictate internet policy. In short, it’s not, and the mere threat of Title II reclassification led to staggering economic losses between 2011 and 2015 including 20 percent — $150 billion — in investments. Not only has this hurt our economy, it has also jeopardized the work those of us in the broadband industry prioritize above all else — access.
Buildout of critical broadband infrastructure is a leading priority today because of the power it has to change lives. Without increased broadband access, there’s a perpetuated disparity between Americans who can access resources to improve their quality of life, and Americans who can’t. People in certain communities who can get education and job training resources and track chronic health conditions via online resources and those who can’t. This should never be the case, and broadband access should be available to all — like the concept of net neutrality.
Title II is a wedge that impedes investment in broadband, which is felt by Prysmian Group and other manufacturers of telecom cables and accessories that are critical to voice, video, and data transmission. The slowdown in investment it has caused impacts business at all levels. When ISPs partner with Prysmian to help build new networks, we are able to create new jobs and partner with other small and mid-size businesses, from engineers mapping out operations to the contractors and construction workers who are laying down the fiber and providing critical maintenance checks.
This industry remains a delicate and interconnected web that starts from the big players and moves all the way down to smaller providers and entrepreneurs. When burdensome regulations like Title II disrupt this system, the repercussions are felt across the board and have very real negative impact on our ability to not just deploy broadband but also provide needed jobs and economic security.
In addition to reversing Title II, the FCC must reaffirm the interstate nature of broadband services to protect against state legislators from overreacting to the FCC’s action and creating an untenable patchwork of internet policy regulations that would have the same investment chilling impact as Title II.
We all want a strong, competitive, and open internet that protects America’s leadership in innovation. And restoring internet freedom by rolling back Title II and establishing a national framework for broadband will help us reach this goal. A more connected world awaits.
Stephen J. Szymanski is the vice president for telecom Business/telecom communications systems at Prysmian Cables & Systems USA LLC.
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