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The Open Internet: A Light Approach is the Right Approach

BY: TOM GURR

So far, the FCC has received a record-setting 3 million comments on the Open Internet proceeding; the Commission will take these comments into account as they decide on rules that will impact the continued growth of the Internet. And just a few weeks ago, the Internet surpassed a major landmark: There are now over a billion websites, up from just one in 1991.

These astounding numbers reveal the value Internet users and innovators place on what was in the not-so-distant past relegated to the “dot com boom,” a trend that would likely peak and then fade. Most of us could not have anticipated the integration of web-based technology into our daily lives—not just in Silicon Valley—but for parents at work, kids in school, seniors at home, and families everywhere. Our networks have delivered numerous technologies and consumer benefits, from apps for seemingly everything to smart homes, cars, and well, just about everything else.

The Internet’s increasingly critical role in 21st century life means that we have to focus on its ongoing health and growth, as well as the role of government to ensure its stability. As we’ve discussed before within the net neutrality debates, some so-called net activists have warned of the imminent death of the Internet and the need for new rules to protect it and how we use it. Not only do those regulations come with unintended consequences, but this fear-based narrative overlooks the basic reality: The Internet has thrived for decades in an environment of minimal regulation.

In fact, it is that historically light-touch approach which has enabled and encouraged advances in coverage and speeds, resulting in more online access for consumers and communities and all the benefits that connectivity delivers. Those smart policies allowed innovators the freedom to take risks and helped entrepreneurs take quick action, which resulted in the unprecedented innovation and thriving Internet ecosystem we have today.

Meanwhile, a vocal but misguided faction is calling for the FCC to extend regulations meant for public utilities in the long-ago monopoly telephone era onto the Internet. The new (old?) laws are known collectively as Title II regulations, and applying them to the modern Internet would jeopardize expansion of next-gen networks, impede innovation, impose new taxes and fees, and slow private investment—and all without any of the protections that proponents of this approach claim to want. The merits of what has enabled the Internet to flourish to-date are being overlooked in an atmosphere of doomsday rhetoric. That’s why I want to highlight some of the comments the FCC has received in this proceeding that deftly illustrate just what’s at stake.

First, the National Minority Organizations, a coalition of 45 highly respected national civil rights, social service, and professional organizations, representing millions of members from across the country, filed comments urging the FCC to proceed with rules that would protect consumers and encourage universal broadband access and adoption. In their comments, these organizations pointed out that many vulnerable, underserved, and historically disadvantaged communities of color remain on the sidelines of the digital revolution. They also pointed out that adopting public utility rules would have a negative impact on investment in broadband networks, delaying broadband adoption among many communities of color while also hindering investment in local infrastructure and job creation. Because new technologies and devices are helping to enable significant progress in many disadvantaged communities, it’s especially crucial that the new rules allow this progress to continue by incentivizing innovation, investment, and efforts to bring modernized broadband networks to these communities.

And as the California Telehealth Network (CTN) pointed out in their filing, this issue is especially critical to 21st century health care, which offers new possibilities for patients and providers. CTN asked that the FCC ensure that its rules create incentives to invest and deploy broadband, health IT equipment, and software for telehealth—all of which give Americans access to high-quality care while reducing health care costs. But it pointed out those opportunities don’t come as a result of Title II regulations, in fact CTN pointed out that Title II regulations won’t encourage increased investment in telehealth or protect healthcare edge providers or users. The result could be devastating to patients in rural and underserved areas, many of which lack access to sufficient broadband capacity.

When we look at what’s really at stake and discover the very real effects and costs of a heavy-handed regulatory approach, it becomes clear that the best way forward is more of the same—momentum to take us forward on the path we’ve been taking all along. Smart policies that encourage investment, innovation, and growth will deliver the benefits we all need and want, while also protecting the Open Internet.

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