Congress, not the FCC, should regulate broadband service

Debra Berlyn Contributor
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Broadband Internet access is critical to improving virtually every aspect of a consumer’s life.  From improving economic status, access to health care, education, personal finance, purchasing, connections to family and friends, and civic and community involvement, broadband is the great enabling technology of our generation.  Broadband has the power to enhance quality of life for all Americans, so it is vitally important that consumer interests are examined and fully represented in any discussions by the government concerning the regulation of broadband services.  The litmus test for all regulatory measures should be, “Does it benefit consumers?”  So will the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed regulations of broadband services ultimately benefit consumers?  That’s a question well worth pondering.

In March, the FCC released its long-anticipated National Broadband Plan to Congress, with plans to ensure that “by the year 2020, at least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second.”  Many people however, have access but choose to remain disconnected, some citing fears about privacy, safety and security as primary barriers to going online.  In fact, the FCC’s broadband plan states that the number one way in which government can influence the broadband ecosystem is to “design policies to ensure robust competition and, as a result maximize consumer welfare, innovation and investment.”

The FCC’s proposal to reclassify broadband services and rely on certain provisions of Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934 could bring about significant change to the Internet we know today.  It could place consumers’ online safety and security at risk because the proposed rules limit the ability of network providers to properly manage networks to ensure data integrity and security on the Internet.  Consumer data integrity and security are key components of the National Broadband Plan and it is critical that everything possible is done to protect these vital interests.  Consumers wary of the dangers online must have confidence that their Internet service providers are granted maximum flexibility to ward off bad actors that threaten the safety of their networks.

In order to fully realize the benefits of the National Broadband Plan and ensure that the proposed rules do not impinge upon consumer well-being, it is important to allow Congress to take a legislative approach to the issue of broadband classification and regulation.  In the past three months we have seen a bipartisan majority of legislators vigorously assert their belief that Congress, rather than the FCC, is best suited to address any significant proposed change to the Communications Act.  All told, almost 300 legislators have weighed in and called for the FCC to stand down and allow Congress to create a framework for the future of broadband Internet regulations.

For the past year, a chorus of voices from every corner of the American landscape have expressed to the FCC that onerous regulation of broadband and the reclassification of broadband as a telephone service can result in unintended consequences that limit benefits for consumers.  Congress has introduced a resolution to decide if the FCC even has the authority to have jurisdiction over the regulation of broadband.  Non-profit and consumer voices have come forward to support this resolution.

As an advocate for consumers on this matter, I have listened to the voices of minority organizations, labor unions, disability rights advocates, women’s groups, senior advocacy groups, rural and farming voices, suppliers, manufacturers, thought leaders on health care and others.  They’re all saying the same thing: a quick-fix regulation of broadband services by the FCC isn’t the best approach.  Let Congress handle it.

The FCC has developed an excellent National Broadband Plan and consumers would benefit from the time they should now dedicate to its implementation.  We can let Congress address the larger question at hand regarding the future of broadband regulation.

Debra Berlyn is president of Consumer Policy Solutions and director of the Consumer Awareness Project. She maintains a website and blog at http://www.consumerawarenessproject.org/.