Tech Policy

Congress must reject the federal internet power grab

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One of the issues Congress will be considering when they return from August recess is so-called “net neutrality” — how the federal government should regulate the internet. As they do so, it is vital that Congress remain steadfastly opposed to legislation that would reinstate burdensome regulations on the internet and create needless government bureaucracy, threatening the principles that have enabled the internet to flourish since its inception.

At the same time, lawmakers can work toward passing a bipartisan set of internet regulations that will protect a free and open internet for everyone.

It’s important to first look beyond euphemistic legislative titles and read the fine print. A case in point is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “Save the Internet Act.” The bill represents an erroneous approach to internet regulations, one that would kill the strong and thriving internet we have today. The partisan approach taken by some members of Congress—promoted without any real debate or thorough study—would only threaten emerging competition and innovation while increasing federal bureaucracy and government’s grip over the internet.

The “Save the Internet Act” would regulate the internet like an old-style public utility, essentially giving the government ultimate control over setting prices, determining what services consumers can access, and directing investment.

Such a move would put internet service providers in the precarious position of having to ask the government for permission to innovate and develop new products for consumers. This is a slippery slope. The internet has thrived thanks to the light-touch regulatory approach lawmakers and regulators have taken over the years; these stifling rules would be a step in the wrong direction.

Taxpayers would lose out too, by being deprived of technologies developed through a market-driven internet—technologies that have already saved billions by helping services and programs become more cost-efficient. Everything from government supply chain oversight, to customer service portals, to “smart” energy and traffic management, would be threatened.

In fact, we have already seen the negative impact of government internet regulations. When the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed similar so-called “net neutrality” rules, our nation saw its first-ever decline in internet investment not tied to an economic recession. Due to additional expenses brought on by these rules—which were initially structured by the Communications Act of 1934 for an entirely different era and industry—internet providers incurred new costs that prevented them from expanding and enhancing broadband nationwide.

This drop in investment mostly hurts rural America, where government policy should be doing everything possible to strengthen network speeds and improve connectivity. Maine’s rural areas are certainly no exception. Fortunately, the FCC changed course and by last year restored the dynamic environment for internet growth and investment that has benefitted Americans so much.

In contrast, the House Democrats’ heavy-handed approach to what they call “net neutrality” not only threatens to undermine progress with America’s high-speed internet networks, it also disregards better solutions to some of the most fundamental concerns Americans have when it comes to going online: the right to privacy and the security of their personal data. Congress must approach these issues cautiously, evenly, and in the least burdensome manner possible.

There is a bipartisan way forward for Congress. Both Republicans and Democrats have worked together to put forward solutions that don’t involve the heavy-handed 1930s-style telecom regulations that have throttled investment. Single-party legislation that leads to a dead-end is a nonstarter for the future of telecommunications regulation – with a divided government, both parties need to work together.

Genuine net neutrality isn’t about treating the internet like a utility. Reimposing rules crafted nearly a century ago on the internet, which is so vital to America’s families, small businesses and taxpayers, is not the answer.

Congress should work toward crafting and passing a truly bipartisan legislative bill that both protects a free and open internet—regardless of how consumers access the internet or where they go online—while also encouraging investment and spurring innovation.

About Pete Sepp

Pete Sepp is the President of the National Taxpayers Union, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for taxpayers’ interests at all levels of government.

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