The internet has changed how we communicate, engage in commerce, and live our lives. It not only provides a platform that can be used to promote free speech, but serves as a great equalizer when it comes to jobs and opportunity by dramatically reducing the barriers of entry for anyone with a new idea and broadband connection.
Unfortunately, because the nature of government power is to control, tax, and regulate, there will always be government officials who will seek to implement policies to increase these inherent powers. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Obama administration made the decision to set aside decades of bipartisan agreement and enact a radical proposal that reclassified the internet as a regulated public utility. The Obama-era regulations give federal bureaucrats new authority to regulate pricing and terms of service and eventually even collect billions in new taxes.
This policy not only threatens investment across the United States but seeks to force companies of all sizes to ask the government for prior approval of business decisions. The end result is less broadband, less innovation, and less freedom for the American consumer.
Thankfully, relief will soon be on the way as the Federal Communications Commission under Chairman Ajit Pai seeks to repeal the so-called Open internet Order and return the internet to its original classification as an information service, which allowed the internet to flourish.
But, the restoration of internet freedom may be short-lived as there are already scores of politicians and state and local regulators who have indicated an interest in replicating the Obama administration’s fatally flawed rules at the state and local level. As harmful as the FCC’s rules have been for broadband investment and innovation, replacing such rules with a patchwork of state and local requirements would have an even more detrimental effect on the internet.
The Constitution’s Commerce Clause provides Congress with the power to regulate interstate commerce. Given that the internet permits consumers and businesses to connect to others in different states (as well as countries), broadband services are inherently interstate services and must therefore be protected from state and local interference. As the FCC rolls back the Obama-era regulations on the internet, it should also take the opportunity to affirmatively recognize this.
Allowing the Obama administration’s dangerous policy to infest the internet through state and local government mandates serves no purpose other than to stifle America’s entrepreneurial spirit, frustrate innovation, and block economic opportunity.
Steve Forbes recently raised concerns that allowing state and local regulators to recreate these regulations would create “a crazy quilt-like patchwork of state regulations governing the internet — unquestionably, the most border-free platform ever known to humanity. It would be chaos, and a massive deterrent to investment, innovation, and growth.”
Even former Democratic FCC Chairman Bill Kennard agrees that the internet should not be regulated at the local or state level. He stated in a 1999 speech that, “it is in the national interest that we have a national broadband policy. The FCC has the authority to set one, and we have. We have taken a deregulatory approach, an approach that will let this nascent industry flourish.”
Imposing public utility regulations — which have their roots in the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 — on the internet is not the right policy to keep America globally competitive. Now is the time to end government micromanagement of the internet and let it thrive without federal, state, or local meddling. The United States’ continued leadership in the 21st Century digital economy rests on getting this policy right.
For these reasons, it is imperative that the FCC establish a strong deregulatory federal framework for broadband regulations and preempt state and local regulators from having the opportunity to implement the next internet power grab.