Innovation Needs Broadband. Here is How to Drive Investment in 2017.

  • JORDAN CRENSHAW

A thriving private broadband industry is necessary to spur advanced technologies such as 5G and the Internet of Things. The private expansion of broadband is good not only for innovation but for business and jobs in general. According to one study, “[e]very 10 MHz of new spectrum made available for wireless service creates over 1.6 million jobs and generates $24.3 billion in GDP growth.”

Unfortunately through the first half of 2016, broadband investment decreased. As economist Hal Singer notes, the only times we’ve seen such declines were “in 2001, after the dot.com meltdown, and in 2009, after the Great Recession.”

With a new administration set to move into Washington, here is how policymakers can reverse this trend and ensure a growing broadband economy in 2017 and beyond.Through the first half of 2016, broadband investment decreased.

One of the more pressing regulatory issues is net neutrality and the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) reclassification of Internet service providers (ISP) as common carriers under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, essentially treating them as public utilities.

Additionally, the FCC’s Title II reclassification granted the commission sweeping new consumer privacy authority which it used to adopt much more restrictive privacy regulations over ISPs than they were required to follow when they were previously regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. Many industry groups worry that the FCC’s new privacy rules will also lead to reduced investment in 5G and the Internet of Things.

Policymakers should work to roll back the reclassification of broadband providers in order to spur further investment in broadband. There have been many different proposals to address the FCC’s reclassification. Earlier this year, members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee put forward draft legislation stripping the FCC of its public utility-style authority over broadband providers while forbidding ISPs from blocking content to consumers.  Alternatively, others have advocated for a new FCC to repeal net neutrality altogether including its provisions to prevent Internet “fast lanes.”

Another way to short circuit sloppy agency rulemakings such as the net neutrality and privacy orders are structural regulatory reforms that Congress should consider. This year, the House of Representatives passed the Federal Communications Process Reform Act of 2015 which would require minimum comment periods during FCC rulemakings and would allow the public to see the language of proposed rules before they are adopted.

Another critical piece of regulatory reform legislation is the Regulatory Accountability Act which would provide greater administrative transparency and require agencies to impose the least costly option on American businesses when adopting rules that have a high impact on the U.S economy.

With a new year almost upon us, policy makers have an opportunity to advance regulatory solutions that will boost broadband investment and clear the way for the job-creation that will follow.