Basically everyone agrees that broadband in America has been an unequaled success story. In the past 15 years, the availability of high-speed Internet has gone from virtually nonexistent to almost universal. Consumers have seen private companies invest billions of dollars in expanding access and availability of broadband to communities throughout California and across the nation.
Broadband is a central component of our communities, our jobs and our families.
Perhaps this is why the Federal Communications Commission is now formally considering new regulations on broadband companies. These seemingly innocent regulations called “net neutrality” could culminate in the imposition of stifling, telephone utility style regulations on America’s privately owned broadband networks.
It’s an aggressive play that will almost certainly land in court, and the results will have serious long-term impacts to consumers and small businesses throughout the country, including future job growth.
Thanks largely to a regulatory environment that has promoted private expansion, providers invested $60 billion last year in broadband networks, according to researchers at the Yankee Group, a market research group. That’s a lot of jobs. Whether its construction in deploying new broadband access or the launch of new online businesses and services, private investment in new broadband networks means jobs.
In today’s economy, the last thing Americans need is new burdensome regulations that threaten job growth.
Bipartisan policy has long favored minimal regulation of advanced communications services. But today, a bare majority of FCC Commissioners seem intent on ramming through new regulations without input from Congress.
Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives and an expert in communications policy, recently warned that if the FCC chooses to proceed on its current course, it risks reversal by the courts and could put at risk “significant past and future investments, perhaps to the detriment of the nation’s economic recovery and continued technological leadership.” Dingell, incidentally, has supported network neutrality regulation in the past.
Letters signed by 74 Democratic and 171 Republican members of Congress, including many from California delegation, express similar concerns and a strong preference for a legislative process as opposed to the rulemaking approach being pushed by groups like Free Press and others.
The advocacy group Free Press, for example, frequently taps the media to paint its opponents as fronts for special interests. But as the National Journal recently noted, Free Press is firmly allied with media companies and conceals most of its own funding. Besides asking policy makers for federally-guaranteed access to competitive, privately-funded broadband networks, Free Press also happens to be seeking public subsidies for those same media companies from which they receive funding.
“While couched in the rhetoric of democracy,” Free Press notes in a recent paper, “these appeals for congressional action are nothing more than a stall tactic.”
But if network neutrality regulation really is good policy, Free Press and other advocates have nothing to fear from democracy. Congressional hearings and debate ought to precede any major new direction in public policy, especially one that affects approximately $60 billion in annual private investment and the desperately needed jobs that go with it.
Hance Haney is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a nonpartisan public policy think tank conducting research on technology, science and culture, economics and foreign affairs.