Net Neutrality Debate Could Harm Northern Virginia’s Economy And Jobs

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Jason Flanary VP of Government Relations, Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce
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Considered “The Silicon Valley of the East,” Northern Virginia’s technology sector could be significantly impacted by the net neutrality debate in Washington, D.C., with the outcome affecting the region’s economy and local jobs.

Instead of supporting an open debate and more comprehensive legislation to support and protect an open internet for today’s technology-driven era, some members of Congress launched a Congressional Review Act (CRA) process — an ill-conceived, rarely used stunt — to force a vote to institute Depression-era regulations in the name of net neutrality.

If passed, the measure could result in a major loss of innovation and development in both the internet and broadband technologies, gravely impacting companies and employees in Northern Virginia. Unfortunately, the CRA passed the Senate and is now headed to the House.

Despite what so many lawmakers and activists have claimed, the CRA is a step backward in preserving an open internet. It is a partisan half-measure meant to circumvent and limit congressional debate and deny any public input. It allows a simple majority in Congress to unilaterally overturn the FCC’s rules, bypassing public comment and discouraging future investment and innovation in infrastructure.

Rather than forcing the status-quo regulations of the past through a nakedly partisan and short-cut solution, there must be a transparent and deliberative legislative solution for regulating the internet, the most dynamic economic driver of our time.

The internet is responsible for nearly 11 million jobs and billions in economic investment, many right here in Northern Virginia. Depression-era utility regulations (known as Title II) implemented under the 2015 order deter investment in networks and put jobs at risk. They slow down innovation by requiring government permission before launching new ideas. Repealing the reimplementation of these Title II utility regulations will strengthen the internet and foster greater innovation.

In fact, during the many years before the previous FCC adopted its heavy-handed, Depression-era rules in 2015, the internet experienced an unprecedented era of innovation and growth. Northern Virginia was no exception to such benefits.

The new FCC order does not mean that internet service providers (ISPs) will be allowed to run wild and begin charging their customers outrageous fees. The ISPs have made clear that they are committed to policies that ensure that there is no blocking, throttling or unfair discrimination in online traffic.

We have already seen a resurgence in innovation with ISPs in things like broadband access and technologies. ISPs can invest in bringing broadband to remote and rural areas or underserved communities. Already, estimates from economists have found that Title II classification may have led to a colossal $150 billion in economic losses and as many as 700,000 lost jobs.

While the private sector is already taking proactive action in the wake of the FCC repeal, we need bipartisan support to ensure our internet remains an open and free marketplace. The only way to do this is for Congress to pass comprehensive legislation that enshrines 21st-century rules for a 21st-century internet and prevents a constant regulatory flip-flop of net neutrality rules.

There is a common misconception that there are those who oppose net neutrality and those who support it. But the reality is that everyone wants to ensure net neutrality lives on. The disagreement lies in how to effectively reach that objective. The new FCC order focuses on 21st-century solutions while opening the door for bipartisan congressional action and a comprehensive solution. Without such legislation, the government will undermine investment, innovation and jobs and put consumer protections at risk.

I urge our Northern Virginia congressional representatives to reject the CRA and work instead towards comprehensive legislation that would protect an open internet to spur continued economic growth and job creation for our region. It is up to Congress to protect our citizens and their access to information. I am confident our lawmakers can make this happen and come together to enact comprehensive legislation that preserves the core values of an open and free internet.

Jason Flanary is a former vice president of government relations and board member for the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and former chief operating officer for a tech company in Northern Virginia.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.