We don’t often hear good news from federal regulators, but last week was an exception. The Federal Communications Commission voted in favor of a proposal by Chairman Ajit Pai to roll back its 2015 Title II regulations, the Obama-era internet regulations known as net neutrality.
Reversing the Title II reclassification of internet service providers as utility services and eliminating the internet conduct standard, a broad mandate to micromanage providers, will restore the framework of an internet unfettered by regulation.
It will also expand broadband deployment, increase internet access and spur the innovations that will lead to next generation technologies and achievements. Companies will once again be free to expand competitive and innovative services, such as free data plans popular with customers, instead of being fearful that they’ll run afoul of federal regulators. With more incentive to invest in their networks, ISPs can offer more internet access for low-income households and draw nearer to closing the digital divide.
We know this, because that’s what was happening before Title II.
Prior to 2015, the internet had flourished precisely because it was left free from government regulation. In 1996, President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress enacted a policy meant “to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet … unfettered by Federal or State regulation,” in the words of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Private investment in networks grew to $1.5 trillion in the almost two decades after the Telecommunications Act. Broadband and mobile connectivity expanded, speeds increased, new technologies, platforms and applications emerged and an entire digital economy was born. Global giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon have become integral parts of our lives. Indeed, that the internet is now so entwined with the larger economy proves just how significant was the decision to leave it free from government control and open to innovation.
Clearly, before 2015 the internet was not broken. There was no systemic harm to speak of. As is so often the case when government meddles, American businesses and families suffer. Investment in network expansion dropped 5.6 percent in the aftermath of Title II, something unheard of outside a recession. Small ISPs have “slowed, if not halted, the development and deployment of innovative new offerings.” This is especially damaging as small ISPs bring competition to the internet economy.
Title II regulations promised much, but instead they’ve been a barrier to investment and innovation, and consumers have been saddled with less competition and fewer choices. Now, the FCC decision to rollback outdated utility-style regulation – rules originally crafted in the 1930s for telephone monopolies – will restore a truly free and open internet.
The move last week begins the formal notice and comment process to undo the burdensome rules. During the first phase, the FCC will take public comment on the proposed rulemaking.
The benefits that will accrue to American businesses and families across the country, from urban centers to rural towns, should be the top priority of FCC’s rulemaking, not limiting competition in the name of some bureaucrat’s idea of fairness.
Paige Agostin is a senior policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity.
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