Net Neutrality’s Cure: Innovation And Competition

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Rep. Chris Stewart Congressman, Utah 2nd District
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It’s been 9 months since the FCC concluded that the outline to regulate 19th century railroads was a great fit to regulate the 21st Century Internet. Many, including me, warned that the Open Internet Order was ill-advised: investment in infrastructure would decrease, competition among major providers would dwindle, and consumers wouldn’t benefit from any anti-blocking and anti-throttling provisions for years while it’s being challenged in court.

So where are we today?

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai recently testified before Congress that internet service providers will spend 8 percent less on infrastructure this year compared to last year. For an industry that has spent $1.4 trillion over the last 18 years it means billions of dollars will sit idle. State-of-the-art Internet requires enormous continuous investment in new technologies to keep us all connected. For many of my constituents this means last generation technology with third world internet connections for another few years.

A lot of the money for construction is instead diverted to mergers and acquisitions. The AT&T bid for T-Mobile and the Comcast bid for Time Warner failed, but it’s only the dawn of the age of mergers. It’s no wonder – the Communications Act of 1934 was designed to regulate monopolies and the FCC has given the industry significant incentive to consolidate. T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere said industry consolidation is “not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.” I don’t mean to suggest that any of the deals before the FCC will result in a single monopoly, but they do represent steps toward less competition, less investment, and less innovation. The real tragedy is that competition, investment and innovation are the best ways to cure to net neutrality woes.

The good news is that not all politicians and bureaucrats are content with the status quo. Some local officials are doing what they can to remove barriers in the way of new competitors and technologies. And the barriers are numerous. Regulatory approval still takes years and can still double the cost of construction. Just the expense of obtaining permits to poles and rights of way can be 20 percent!

Salt Lake City is doing its part to remove these barriers by streamlining the approval process and giving incentives for new entrants to the market. While most of America is stuck with internet speeds that can barely support the whole family watching videos, in 2016 Salt Lake City will have 3 major providers that offer a full gigabit. Another Utah led solution is to bury new telecommunications conduit every time a road is rebuilt.

Congress is stepping up to the plate too. We are using Utah’s “Dig Once” standard to require it for every federal road project so that all that needs to be done by an ISP is to pull some wires and start connecting constituents. We’re also working on streamlining the permitting process and incentivizing replacing decades old copper with state of the art fiber.

The FCC was sued immediately after they printed the Open Internet Order. If Friday was any indication, this court battle will be a long process, but there is no reason that consumers should have to wait years for a resolution. It’s about so much more than net neutrality. It doesn’t matter if an internet service provider can’t block a website or video when you’re staring at a spinning wheel.