The Internet is Alive and Well as of June 11, 2018 | Citizens Against Government Waste

The Internet is Alive and Well as of June 11, 2018

The WasteWatcher

On June 11, 2018, the Restoring Internet Freedom Order (RIFO) went into effect.  The hysteria over its impact nearly rivaled the doomsday scenarios created around January 1, 2000, when wild claims were made that every computer system in the world would be unable to adjust to the new century. 

For example, implementation of the RIFO was going to give internet service providers, all controlled by giant companies, complete control over everyone’s access to the internet, what they could see, and what they could do.  But, the RIFO merely returned the internet to its original light-touch regulatory system.  The internet didn’t break, and the world didn’t end.  Imagine that. 

Indeed, the companies that built the networks upon which this incredible engine of innovation is driven continued investing in new infrastructure; consumers continued to shop online; students researched projects for school; and job seekers applied for new opportunities.  The internet operates the same way today as it did yesterday, and now Americans have the assurance that it will continue to improve in the future.   

The companies that have invested in existing networks to expand internet access across the nation are now focused on developing next generation 5G networks.  This is critical given the benefits, such as telemedicine, Smart Cities, and improved services using the Internet of Things that 5G networks will provide.  Even Congress has taken the bull by the horns, working in a bipartisan way to increase the availability of spectrum through legislation such as the MOBILE NOW Act, to help move the U.S. ahead in the race to 5G.

Unfortunately, there are still some in Congress who want to make that all come to a screeching halt.  They insist on using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to rescind RIFO, and reimpose the burdensome Title II regulatory regime that was established under President Obama’s FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in March 2015.  The legislation has already passed the Senate by a vote of 52-47, and it appears efforts are underway in the House of Representatives to bring the legislation up for a vote.  The Title II scheme reduced innovation and investment, and the regulations only applied to ISPs, leaving out edge providers and other players in the internet ecosystem.  Supporters of the CRA are also either ignoring or unaware that it would leave jurisdiction over internet privacy in limbo.

Improving telecommunications across this country should never be a partisan issue.  When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was enacted, members of Congress worked together in a bipartisan manner to forge a path forward for the telecommunications industry.  There was some pushing and shoving, but the final outcome prepared the country well for the following 20 years.  This is what happens when both sides work together for the common good.  Congress and President Bill Clinton recognized that the internet would soon become a driving force in the economy, and provided the mechanism to allow it to grow and expand, by regulating it as an information service under Title I of the Communications Act of 1934.

The CRA rescinding the RIFO is an exercise in idiocy.  If Congress really wants an open internet and to spur investment in 5G technologies and network deployment, then they should update the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Communications Act of 1934 in a bipartisan manner to provide a forward-thinking path for internet governance.  The groundwork for developing legislation began with the FCC’s adoption of the open internet principles in August 2005.  These principles assured the American people to access the lawful internet content of their choice; to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement; to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network; and to have competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

In 2014, the House Energy and Commerce Committee conducted several town halls and listening sessions, and issued a series of white papers asking for public input on how a new telecommunications bill should be structured.  The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste participated in a number of these opportunities.  Yet, once Congress adjourned the effort stalled.

Congress now has the opportunity to revisit this issue, and bring certainty to internet governance.  Indeed, it is the responsibility of Congress to determine how the internet should be regulated.  If Congress passes a CRA to rescind the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, members are abdicating that responsibility as lawmakers.