The Federal Communications Commission is doing its part to grow the economy and create jobs. The FCC’s effort to re-energize the construction and deployment of new broadband networks fosters an environment that creates many skilled well-paying jobs. We should be able to agree on policies that spur job-producing private sector investment in critical infrastructure projects.
The FCC should act quickly on one stifling regulation in particular: Title II.
The outgoing leaders of the FCC shackled new broadband projects with some of the most domineering, micromanaging rules that exist in telecommunications law. These “Title II” mandates require government permission slips for virtually every aspect of Internet construction and operations — trapping vital new investments in regulatory quicksand and leaving American Internet users and infrastructure workers in the lurch.
By one estimate, every year since the introduction of Title II in 2010 has iced out over $35 billion in lost investment. Following the experience under similar rules in Europe, the impact will likely slice network investment in half. Small Internet providers complained that the rules “hang like a black cloud” over their businesses by driving up the cost of new innovations and products.
For the Trump Administration, these flawed and ill-fitting Title II rules stand out like a job-killing sore thumb. They are an easy target for quick action to renew investment and innovation in one of the most important sectors of the modern digital economy. Congress quickly confirmed a new, bipartisan slate of FCC commissioners to evaluate the proposed rollback of these costly, destructive rules. And action is expected to come as early as this month.
For American Internet users, the rollback will unleash network upgrades, new products and services, and faster, fatter pipes for streaming music and video applications. Rural and tribal communities should see the spigot turned back on to connect or beef up service in hard to reach areas, where the economics of new projects are especially severe. And Internet workers will breathe a sigh of relief as needed improvements and upgrades create space for new positions and job security.
Some partisans will try to obstruct this effort, attempting to convert a nonpartisan jobs no-brainer into yet another political purity test and opposing forward movement for opposition’s sake. They will confuse the public by claiming that “Title II” rules are needed to protect the openness and transparency of the Internet. They will falsely conflate issues and wrap themselves in the popular mantle of “net neutrality” to disguise the deeply unpopular Title II.
The truth is that Title II and net neutrality are two different things. Title II deals with economics, investment, and micromanagement of business operations. Net neutrality deals with traffic flow, transparency, and basic principles of openness and non-discrimination. The FCC enacted net neutrality rules without Title II in the past, and Congress considered net neutrality laws having nothing to do with Title II as well.
Title II is not the answer. Antitrust laws address many of the concerns about Internet openness and transparency already. The FCC must complete its work undoing the mess of Title II as quickly as possible. Congressional action to stop this endless game of pong is the best path forward.
The most immediate need for American workers and network development is to get rid of the archaic, smothering blanket of Title II so we can get back to work with as much private sector internet investment as possible. It’s critical for the American economy and our global digital leadership.
Katie McAuliffe is Executive Director of Digital Liberty & Federal Affairs Manager at Americans for Tax Reform