The FCC's Not So Merry-Go-Round of Net Neutrality | Citizens Against Government Waste

The FCC's Not So Merry-Go-Round of Net Neutrality

The WasteWatcher

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is riding the net neutrality carousel again.  On April 3, 2024, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced that her agency would be affirming “the importance of a national standard of broadband reliability, security, and consumer protection” by restoring the “overwhelmingly popular” standard of net neutrality at its April 25, 2024 meeting.  If this feels like whiplash, well … it is.

The reinstatement of rules that in 2015 were not only entirely unnecessary but also damaging will be a waste of time and money.  The FCC’s plan will increase government control over an industry that is innovative, thriving and vibrant by treating internet service providers like old fashioned telephone companies, subject to the provisions of a 90 year-old law.  Citizens Against Government Waste has long opposed giving the government such power over the internet by redefining it as a telecommunications service, instead of an information service.

In 1996, following the enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, President Bill Clinton (D) got it right when he stated the internet, “should be a place where government makes every effort … not to stand in the way, to do no harm.”  By regulating the internet as an information service under Title I, rather than subject it to harmful overregulation mandated by Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, President Clinton and Congress opened the doorway to increased innovation and expansion of the internet allowing for the vibrant ecosystem enjoyed by businesses, consumers, families, and students today.

According to BroadbandNow, there are 2,906 internet service providers in the U.S. that offer internet service through multiple means to customers across the country, including 847 digital subscriber line (DSL) providers; 209 copper providers (Business 51/T3 connections, etc.); and 425 cable companies; 1,718 fiber internet providers; 1,744 fixed wireless broadband providers; and 47 mobile broadband and LTE providers.  Yet, once again the FCC is targeting these providers, large and small, with the heavy hand of government intervention through net neutrality rules.

In Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s announcement, she said, “The pandemic proved once and for all that broadband is essential,” and claimed that the prior administration “abdicated authority over broadband …”  She cannot have it both ways.  During the pandemic, broadband access in the U.S. was better than in Europe, which has net neutrality-style rules.  The FCC did not abandon authority over broadband; it freed broadband from the burdensome net neutrality rules that were imposed under the Open Internet Order by adopting the Restoring Internet Freedom Order (RIFO).  Broadband investment grew rapidly, reaching a record $102.4 billion in 2022, and now, according to Statista, 97.1 percent of all Americans now have access to the internet compared to 87.27 percent in 2018. 

The chairwoman also stated the FCC would be restoring the “court-approved standard of net neutrality,” which is not accurate, since the most recent court decision on Title II upheld the RIFO, and two former solicitors general from the Obama administration concluded that the Supreme Court will likely overturn Title II regulations if they are imposed by the FCC.  The agency has a steep hill to climb to prove why it has the authority to undo a binding decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that broadband is an information service.  Perhaps the most telling, and absurd, comment made by the chairwoman in her announcement about the amount of control the government will have over the internet is that when service is lost, households and businesses expect the FCC to be able to “help restoration or at least have information about the outage.” 

That’s right, the first thought of all 311 million Americans who have internet service is that a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., is the best option to reconnect them if there is an outage.  By the time they get through and connected to someone at the FCC, service will undoubtedly be restored.  This ridiculous and costly power grab means that the FCC would have to hire the same number of employees who answer the phone, emails, and texts for internet service providers; duplicate the outage maps that are easily accessible online; and hire the technicians needed to restore service across the multiple technologies that provide internet connections, like cable, fiber, mobile broadband, satellite, and wireless broadband using TV white space and other unlicensed spectrum. 

The chairwoman also claimed that without Title II authority, the FCC cannot get reports or data on outages or determine how it can stop or help recover from outages.  Hopefully there is someone at the FCC that can point out to her that broadband providers have been required to report network outages to the agency since 2004, and those requirements were updated in 2021 and 2023.  In regard to helping to prevent outages, the FCC adopted wireless network resiliency rules for disasters in 2022.   

Reimposing net neutrality, on top of the even more destructive digital discrimination regulations, will undermine broadband deployment across the country, including the $42.5 billion in Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding.  It will leave more Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide. 

The FCC is back on the merry-go-round of net neutrality, returning to the Obama-Biden rules and threatening broadband growth and expansion with heavy-handed rules that will make deployment more expensive and difficult.  If consumers want slower internet with fewer options, higher costs, less innovation, negligible choices, and more government control, they should tell the FCC to move ahead.  Otherwise, they should be clamoring for the FCC to stop issuing a failed and damaging regulation that contradicts the successful and longstanding light touch rules that have enabled the internet to flourish and established the U.S. as the leader in global telecommunications.

The time and money that will be wasted on the FCC’s proceeding would be better used to continue bridging the digital divide, developing a government-wide spectrum policy, consolidating the 133 broadband programs across 15 agencies, and freeing up more spectrum for licensed and unlicensed use so that the United States can continue to maintain its global competitive leadership in telecommunications.  And the entire process can be avoided if Congress steps in and puts an end to the dizzying madness of net neutrality regulations by enacting legislation that will bring communications law into the twenty-first century.