FCC Votes to Put the Consumer Back in Charge of the Government

The Commission votes to relinquish authority it unilaterally claimed 2 years ago

Today’s vote at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) puts individual consumers back in charge of their internet experience. The vote rolled back a 2015 Order reclassifying the internet as a 1930s telecommunications utility and restored the congressionally mandated light-touch regime that existed from the mid-1990s through 2015.

What is the debate about, though? How are consumers benefitted by the FCC’s decision? And what does the decision mean for policy-makers?

Put simply, in 2015 the Obama Administration decided unelected, federal bureaucrats knew best how to control the internet. The 2015 subjected innovators and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) alike to a heavy-handed regulatory scheme, which would have required them to spend hundreds of millions a year in compliance costs, ask the federal government for permission to innovate, drive smaller ISPs out of business, and so on.

The FCC’s vote today reversed that decision, returning internet governance to where it existed from the mid-1990s through 2014. By returning internet governance to the pre-2015 status, the FCC will re-empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), state attorneys general, and state consumer protection agencies to protect consumers.

These developments are good for the future of the internet. The FCC’s vote returns the internet’s direction back to the consumer and those responsible for building the ecosystem we know and understand today. Consumers will not be left without a remedy if an ISP violates its promise and ISPs will have to continue disclosing their practices and promises. These promises can be enforced by consumers, states, and the federal government.

The Commission, and Chairman Pai, and the other Commissioners should be acknowledged for the time and effort they spent carefully drafting this order. The Commission had to pour over a voluminous record, and from the sheer number of footnotes took the time to respond to all substantive concerns.

Finally, for those unfamiliar with the debate, here are some high-level information and talking points:

What is Net Neutrality and “Title II”?

  • “Net Neutrality” is a phrase coined by a law professor, not a network engineer, software engineer, computer scientist, or any other computer professional. It was originally designed to mean that service providers could not discriminate between different types of data. No one disagrees with the original meaning, but the left has morphed the term to justify the government take-over of the internet through Title II.
  • “Title II” is a 1930’s era regulatory scheme designed to control AT&T when it was the sole telecommunications company in the United States. Title II allows the government to establish, or approve rates telecommunications companies can provide, the packages they can offer, where they can invest in infrastructure, and more. It also has massive reporting requirements that providers must comply with.

What Should You Know About the Restoring Internet Freedom?

  • It is a political debate, not a technical debate. Groups supporting “net neutrality” include far-left advocacy groups, porn companies, and other left-leaning tech companies. Rather than engage in a policy debate, the far left has resorted to name-calling, personal attacks against Chairman Pai and his family including very racist portrayals and leaving threatening signs near his house, and fear-mongering.
  • The FCC’s decision will not kill the internet as we know it. It is returning the internet to the system that existed for nearly two decades, from the mid-1990s through 2014. In these 20 years, there was an unprecedented explosion in economic development, job creation, innovation and forms of communication.
  • The FCC’s decision will put control of the internet back into the hands of consumers. It increases ISP transparency requirements, providing consumers with more useful information regarding ISP promises, practices, and so on.
  • The FCC’s decision will lead to job creation, infrastructure investment, and innovation. Some estimates claim the FCC’s 2015 Title II decision led to a decrease in infrastructure investment by $3.6 billion since (a 5.6 percent reduction). Other estimates claim investment is down between $160 billion and $210 billion.
  • The Digital Divide will close faster. Small, regional and rural ISPs are the key to providing service to rural, underserved and hard-to-serve regions. Once the FCC votes to reverse the Title II order, these carriers will invest more in their networks, expanding their services.
  • State and local governments will be in a better position to protect consumers. The FCC’s decision enhances transparency requirements, requiring ISPs to inform consumers as to their practices, what they are offering, and so on. The FCC and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) signed an agreement to help each other protect consumers, going after ISPs that violate their promises. State attorneys general and consumer protection agencies will also be able to use these enhanced transparency requirements to protect consumers in their states.

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