Senators Divided Over Title II's Economic Impact

The impact of Title II on broadband investment was a hot topic of conversation, and dispute, at the Senate Commerce Committee nomination hearing for FCC chair Ajit Pai and commission seats for Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) cited stats, which have been proffered by ISPs, that investment has gone down under Title II regulations. He also took issue with a New York Times story that investment had gone up since the 2015 Open Internet order reclassified ISPs under common-carrier regs, saying that increase included foreign investment, some of which was spurred by the Title II disincentive to invest in the U.S., and that evidence suggests U.S. infrastructure investment has declined precipitously.

On the other side was Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who said almost half of the venture capital funds invested since 2015, or about $25 billion, was in internet-related businesses, with broadband providers investing $87 billion, the highest capex rate in a decade.

Markey said investment and job creation are high, and so there's no problem that rolling back Title II or reviewing net-neutrality rules would fix.

Both Lee and Markey asked Pai for his take on their respective views, but Pai's answer was cautious given that he has an open proceeding before him and comments on his proposal to roll back Title II and review the rules are still coming in. Pai has long said he would not prejudge items still before him.

He said the evidence of decreased investment was one of his concerns, but that the FCC was testing that theory, as well as the opposite, as part of its due diligence.

Pai also noted that the FCC could have simply declared the old rules harmful, but instead opened the proposed rulemaking to vet and address such issues.

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.