Rule Rollback Fans Applaud FCC Move

ISPs, free marketers and other fans of the FCC’s Dec. 14 net neutrality rule rollback had plenty of nice things to say about the FCC and the Republican majority that overturned the rules approved by the previous Democratic majority. (The vote was strictly party line, with the Dems having no fun and dissenting sharply.).

The FCC voted to reclassify internet access as an information service not subject to common carrier regs, and to eliminate the rules against blocking, discriminating and paid prioritization. ISPs have pledged not to do most of that, promises the Federal Trade Commission can enforce. That, suggests fans of the move, will be sufficient to keep the ‘net open without chilling investment and innovation, as they argued the Title II-based 2015 Open Internet order did.

That applause was in stark contrast to the dark vision painted by net neutrality activists.

“Today’s FCC action rightly restores the light-touch approach to government regulation of the internet that has fostered the development of a vibrant, open and innovative platform," said Michael Powell, president of NCTA-The Internet & Television Association. "For decades, America’s internet service providers have delivered an open internet – allowing consumers to enjoy the lawful internet content and applications of their choosing. Nothing in this decision alters that commitment – ISPs have stated repeatedly that they do not and will not block, throttle or unfairly discriminate in how internet traffic is delivered.

“We cannot reach for the future with regulation from the distant past. Title II and its accompanying regulatory uncertainty deters the innovation and investment needed to build the next generation of broadband and bring its benefits to all Americans. We fully support Chairman Pai and the Commission’s action today. However, we continue to believe that legislation which protects the open internet, while preserving incentives for an ever-improving network is essential. We urge Congress to craft legislation that settles this decade-long debate and permanently enshrines open internet protections into law while ushering in a new era of connectivity for American consumers.”

“We commend chairman Pai for his leadership and FCC Commissioners O’Rielly and Carr for their support in adopting the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, returning to a regulatory environment that allowed the Internet to thrive for decades by eliminating burdensome Title II regulations and opening the door for increased investment and digital innovation," said Comcast senior EVP David Cohen. "Today’s action does not mark the ‘end of the Internet as we know it;’ rather it heralds in a new era of light regulation that will benefit consumers.”

“Americans should applaud the FCC’s decision today to restore a free-market vision of the Internet,” said Brent Skorup, research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. “Title II was created in 1934 for the telegraph system and AT&T long-distance phone monopoly. Its rigid prescriptions are particularly ill-suited for the modern Internet. Internet services and apps offer an open frontier where anyone with a good idea and persistence can find success. No startup or broadband provider should spend precious time and capital navigating the Title II labyrinth and the vague 2015 regulations. As a result of today’s vote, innovators and consumers will determine the evolution of the Internet, not DC regulators and special interests.

“The Restore Internet Freedom Order will ensure the internet remains open to innovation and investment for years to come," said David Barnes, policy director of Generation Opportunity, a free-market group targeted at young people. "The internet is a platform that has allowed millennials to undertake some of the most important innovations of the modern-era, and removing the heavy-hand of government overregulation will ensure that it is allowed to continue developing and improving. Reclassifying the internet from Title II to Title I under the Communications Act will mean more growth, less government intervention, and greater possibilities for its future.”

"Smaller ISPs have always stood by their customers and provided them with unfettered access to lawful Internet content," said American Cable Association President Matt Polka. "Yet, for the past two years they have been subject to unwarranted and burdensome FCC utility-style regulations, which have made them reluctant to invest in their broadband networks and to develop and offer innovative services. Under the regulatory regime adopted by the previous FCC, no one came out a winner - not smaller ISPs, not their customers, not upstream edge providers. The order adopted by the FCC today ends this 'unvirtuous' cycle. Customers of smaller ISPs will not only continue to have an open Internet, but also they will have greatly enhanced access as ISPs upgrade their networks and roll out new services. ACA applauds the FCC for restoring a regulatory regime that truly serves the public interest."

"Today’s vote is a victory for Internet freedom, for broadband investment, and ultimately for the consumers and innovators who rely on an open Internet delivered over next-generation networks," said Robert McDowell, chief public policy advisor and former Republican FCC commissioner. "Mobile Future’s members unequivocally support an open Internet and believe that the Restoring Internet Freedom Order adopted today strikes the right balance between fostering that open platform and the investment and innovation needed to sustain it. The FCC’s action restores the long-standing bipartisan consensus that light touch regulation is best to allow the Internet to grow and thrive. Nowhere is this more evident than in the hyper-competitive wireless ecosphere."

Doug Brake, senior policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, is a fan of reclassification, but an even bigger fan of Congress stepping in to clarify what rules there should be.

“Chairman Pai is right to pull broadband out from under the cloud of Title II’s heavy-handed regulation,” he said. “The hyperbolic fearmongering leading up to this vote is simply not grounded in reality—the openness of the Internet never has been and is not now under threat.”

But, he added, “those on the right who think this ‘net neutrality lite’ at the FTC is sustainable will have another thing coming if a Democrat is elected president. Democrats—right or wrong—don’t see antitrust as an effective safeguard, and this pendulum could very well swing back. Republicans should seek regulatory stability, even if at the cost of broader FCC authority than they would prefer.”

Adonis Hoffman, chairman of Business in the Public Interest and former chief of staff to commissioner Clyburn, agreed.

“The decade-long debate over net neutrality boils down to three core questions: are broadband internet access services (BIAS) a ‘telecommunications’ or ‘information’ service; what is the proper role of the federal government in regulating BIAS; and under what legal or statutory authority should federal regulation take place under? Over the past 10 years we’ve made little progress in answering those questions, and today the issue is more polarizing and politically-charged than ever. It’s clear this is an issue that the Federal Communications Commission alone won’t be able to resolve. We need Congress to step in with a legislative solution. We need legislation that codifies the basic principles of net neutrality and applies them equally across the broadband value chain without the baggage of Title II. This debate has gone on far too long. The time has come for Congress to show leadership and settle the matter once and for all.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.