FCC Changed “Can-Do” Internet Into “Can’t-Do” Internet

Scott Cleland | Chairman, NetCompetition

A “can-do attitude” was the essence of the Internet for the last twenty years, making it a unique decentralized place of endless possibilities and opportunities.

No more, the FCC has changed the “can-do” Internet into a “can’t-do” Internet, by centralizing control via the imposition of unnecessary 1934 telephone utility regulation.

The FCC has enthroned itself as the ultimate gatekeeper of what’s possible and who has what opportunities on America’s Internet.

The FCC imagines it alone knows what’s best for the Internet, and that’s FCC Internet pessimism, not the Internet optimism that made the Internet what it is today.

It will take time and many predictable bad FCC decisions, for people to see the difference in the Internet ethos over time. When they do, they won’t like it.

In beginning to regulate the Internet like a 1934 telephone utility this month, a partisan FCC has self-imposed it’s bureaucratic “can’t-do attitude” on America’s Internet.

It now can tell Internet operators and innovators all of the things they no longer can do in operating and improving the Internet, and that huge fines await any Internet operator that dares doing so without first asking for permission from the FCC.

And the FCC also warns that it will be looking for more things that private sector Internet operators can’t do in the future.

Welcome to the FCC’s new centrally-controlled, can’t do, restricted Internet.

How did the original Internet that the public came to know and love, get changed?

A little history and perspective is helpful here.

The de-centralized Internet freedoms people have appreciated and benefited from over the last twenty years began in April of 1995.

That’s when President Clinton, with strong bipartisan backing in Congress, had the U.S. Government finally turn operations of the Internet over to the private sector, effectively ending the government’s ban on commercial activity on the Internet.

At core this bipartisan vision, consensus and wisdom was to decentralize operation and use of the Internet by handing it off to the private sector, competitive market forces, and individual innovation.

In parallel, Congress was in the process of finalizing the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which similarly embraced a vision of decentralizing communications by ending a failing monopoly communications policy and adopting a new communications policy of promoting competition and market innovation.

These two strongly bipartisan decisions to decentralize communications created the greatest deregulatory success story in history.

The Internet grew from a few American Internet users to roughly 280 million today and to three billion users worldwide.

Private sector competition, commercial incentives, and the freedom to innovate have led to an amazing thousand-fold increase in Internet speeds for the American Internet consumer.

And everyone appreciates the phenomenal amount of choice and diversity of Internet content, products and services that the bipartisan “hands-off-the-Internet” policy created.

However, as the old adage says, no good deed goes unpunished.

Fast forward to 2015, almost twenty years later to the month, the FCC implemented President Obama’s call for the “strongest possible” Title II utility regulation of the Internet, effectively imposing the most onerous, antiquated economic regulation available, on the most modern part of the economy.

The FCC has reversed the de-centralization of a private sector competitive Internet, by appointing itself the ultimate, centralized Internet “decider” for Internet operations.

In a nutshell, how has the FCC changed America’s Internet?

It unilaterally changed America’s wildly-successful and optimistic, “hands-off-the-Internet” policy to a more pessimistic, Government “hands-on-the-Internet” policy — over the strong objection of a majority of Congress.

It changed the bipartisan, “ClintonNet,” private sector vision of the Internet, to a partisan, “ObamaNet,” government-controlled vision of the Internet.

It changed decentralized Internet decision-making, to centralized Internet decision making by the FCC.

That’s how the FCC changed the “can-do” Internet into a “can’t-do” Internet.

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.

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