Congress to Debate Internet of Tomorrow: Heavy-handed, Outdated or Thriving, Growing

Internet users, take note: Our digital future will be discussed in Congress this week.

On Tuesday, Chairman Greg Walden gavels open a hearing of the Communication and Technology Subcommittee on federal regulation of the Internet.  The hearing is a direct response to a series of recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) actions that threaten the future of high speed Internet access for businesses and consumers all over the country. All five FCC Commissioners will testify, and we’re almost certain to see two radically differing views of the federal government’s proper role over the Internet.

On one side are Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, advocates for continuing the “light touch” federal policy that has been in place for nearly 20 years. This policy implemented during the Clinton administration has incented private industry to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in building out wired and wireless broadband networks, leading to the creation of one of the most vigorous parts of our nation’s economy that sustains hundreds of thousands of good, well paying, middle-class jobs. 

Pai and O’Rielly are eloquent in explaining why this sudden shift to a federal micromanagement of the Internet’s rapidly changing technologies is destined for failure – and the price that we all will pay as a result of this regulatory overreach.  Earlier this year, they led a ferocious but ultimately unsuccessful effort to stop Net Neutrality, the greatest expansion of federal regulatory authority over the Internet in history.   

On the other side, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will have to explain his decision to end a proven, successful policy and usher in a new era where federal government bureaucrats micromanage the Internet’s future development, using a rulebook  written for the phone system in  the 1930s. Incredible as it may seem, as a result of Wheeler’s policy change, America’s complex, thriving, innovative, successful Internet is now to be governed by government officials interpreting 100 pages of outdated, onerous rules called “Title II.”

The U.S. Chamber’s views on this Title II overregulation of the Internet are clear. Internet deployment has powered a surge in telecommunications investment for years — $49 billion in 2014 alone.  This has created private sector jobs and economic opportunity for millions. It is this exploding growth and investment that has had the net effect of lessening the severity of the economic downtown that our country is only beginning to emerge from. 

Congress cannot and must not ignore the ominous dark clouds gathering from this agency’s power grab and the implications it has for our still-recovering American economy: A new Gartner report estimates that total U.S. telecommunications equipment and services spending will rise less than 10% between 2014 and 2017. 

That’s not 10% per year – it’s 10% total over 3 years

Combine this with sworn testimony from many mid-size Internet providers that Wheeler’s FCC policy has already forced them to curb broadband deployment, and you have the makings of a problem with significant economic consequences.

Congress should be reminded of this when it looks at the one group that has benefited from the FCC’s Internet regulation: the FCC itself.  Earlier this year, the commission requested a 23% increase in budget to help enforce its newfound powers.

As we enter the age of the “Internet of Everything,” the business implications of diminished broadband investment are huge, especially for businesses and residents in small towns and rural areas.  America’s 21st century economic growth requires 21st century broadband access and a set of 21st century rules that encourage investment in it. The United States can’t compete if our federal policy hobbles the private sector investment we all rely on.