FCC Internet Utility Regulation Is A Really Stupid Idea

Scott Cleland Contributor
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“Fixing” what’s not broken. Radically changing what everyone likes. Abandoning what works exceptionally well for what’s failed miserably in the past, and forcing outdated regulations on what is the most modern part of the economy.

What a stupid idea.

In November, President Obama called for the “strictest possible” utility regulation of the Internet. On Feb. 26, the FCC plans to implement that presidential directive.

The FCC plans to subject the Internet to Title II telephone utility regulations, which would be a repudiation of decades of successful bipartisan policy consensus that Internet packet data transmissions not be subjected to 1934 telephone monopoly network regulations.

Everyone knows the Internet is not broken and has yet to break down.

The public did not know about the Internet until the Clinton administration wisely privatized and de-regulated the Internet’s operation in 1994. Since then, the Internet has become the shining example of bipartisan deregulation.

Certainly the Internet doesn’t need to be controlled and managed by a government that can’t even launch a functional ObamaCare website, or an FCC whose website can’t even handle the simple task of accurately recording public comments.

Most everyone appreciates that the private sector has proven to be a much more capable operational steward of the Internet than the federal government ever was or could be. Putting the Internet’s operational decision making under the FCC’s control for the first time is a stupid idea.

Consumers like the Internet as it is now — a free market of goods, services and ideas. They don’t want a radical change backwards in policy towards the failed policies of a pre-1994, government-controlled Internet from which no one in the public benefited.

Who wants to slow the Internet’s operational decision making to the speed of government? What a stupid idea.

Why abandon the bipartisan free market Internet policies which have been a phenomenal success over the last twenty years for a partisan return to the FCC’s legacy of Title II disasters?

For several decades the “strictest possible” FCC Title II regulations repeatedly held back American progress and innovation.

For example, telephone technology advanced very little from 1934 to 1984 under the FCC’s heavy hand. While cell phone service was invented in 1947, the glacial and controlling FCC did not approve it for consumer use until 1984. While computer modems were invented in the 1950s, the backward-looking FCC did not get around to green-lighting them for consumer use until the late 1990s.

Abandoning the bipartisan free market policies that rocketed the near ubiquitous use of smartphones by Americans in eight short years, to apply the “strictest possible” obsolete regulations to the most modern part of the American economy, is a stupid idea.

The Internet isn’t even a utility service. Water and electricity are natural monopolies regulated like a public utility because the service and economics haven’t changed for a hundred years.

In just twenty years, Internet service has advanced from stationary dial-up service to constantly improving cable, mobile, WiFi, fixed-wireless and satellite competitive Internet service provider services, and a trillion dollar flood of private investment has catapulted America’s Internet speeds roughly 200 times faster in the last 15 years.

Regulating the dynamic, competitive and innovative Internet marketplace under utility regulation that assumes no technological change or the possibility of competitive choice is a stupid idea.

How could such an obviously stupid idea get this far?

The obvious answer is partisan politics and a politically malleable FCC desperate for relevance in the 21st century.

Scott Cleland served as Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H. W. Bush Administration. He is President of Precursor LLC, a research consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, and Chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests.