Blast from the Past on Internet Regulations | Citizens Against Government Waste

Blast from the Past on Internet Regulations

The WasteWatcher

A blast from the past was delivered when President Biden issued his Executive Order to “promote competition.”  The President took aim at many industries across the country, including those for which the United States is the clear global leader, like technology, telecommunications, and pharmaceutical research and development.  The technology and telecommunications proposals would increase government control over companies that have invested trillions of private sector dollars to create the technology necessary to build the world’s most resilient network by restoring stringent, heavy-handed regulations on internet service providers (ISPs), along with the potential for rate regulation.

The pandemic clearly demonstrated the resiliency of existing broadband networks in the U.S., which had fixed and mobile broadband download speeds that were 150 percent and 75 percent higher, respectively, than the comparable global median download speeds as of June 2020.  Network operators saw an unprecedented increase in traffic as tens of millions more people telecommuted and used videoconferencing applications to communicate with colleagues, reach out to family and friends, and teach classes online, while students across the country took classes at home.  Networks in rural areas of the country held well up during the surge in activity.  And the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) found novel ways to assist individuals with affordability issues by working with providers through its Keep America Connected program, expanded by Congress into the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which recently started taking applications from low-income households.

But in the European Union, which has more stringent government regulations over the internet that are similar to the proposals in the EO, streaming speeds had to be reduced to meet increased demand for internet use.  The success of the U.S. system was in large part due to the $1.78 trillion invested by dozens of large and small companies from 1996 to 2019 to build the infrastructure and develop the tools needed to conduct distance learning, online shopping, grocery deliveries, and remote work.  But this network resiliency would have been far different if the FCC had not adopted the Restoring Internet Freedom Order (RIFO) in December 2017, which repealed the onerous  Obama-Biden “net neutrality” Open Internet Order (OIO) regulations.  The OIO broke the internet by superseding nearly 20 years of light touch regulation that had allowed innovation to flourish.  The RIFO repaired the damage.  The OIO had treated ISPs as a common carrier under the Telecommunications Act of 1934, which the Biden “competition” order is asking the FCC to restore. 

In 2018, when the Senate considered legislation to rescind the RIFO, then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) demonstrated the true intent of the Obama-Biden era net neutrality rules, suggesting during the floor debate that the internet is a public utility, and rate regulation should be imposed upon ISPs.  The EO would move control of the internet in this direction. 

Rather than proposing the reduction of regulations to further increase private sector investment or promoting increased opportunities for public-private partnerships to increase network deployment to unserved communities and help drive down costs of infrastructure, the EO undermines the competitive technology and telecommunications marketplace.  The EO fact sheet claims, despite ample evidence to the contrary, that that there are too many “large players” charging consumers triple what they should be paying for access to the internet.

According to US Telecom’s 2021 Broadband Pricing Index Report, the “most popular tier of broadband service costs 7.5 percent less in 2021 when compared to 2020; continuing downward pricing trend that began in 2015.”  This decrease in comparative pricing occurred at the same time demand skyrocketed during the pandemic, and there has been the largest increase in inflation and costs for consumer goods in decades. 

The re-imposition of Title II, or net neutrality, would revive the substantial negative impact it had on investment, a result from the past that no one should want.  According to a November 1, 2018, Phoenix Center report, Title II caused a loss of between $24-30 billion in investment between 2015-2017. 

Clearly, like Calvin and Helen, Adam’s parents who hid in a bunker for 25 years in the 1999 movie Blast from the Past, the administration refuses to recognize the great technological strides made through a light-touch regulatory regime that has allowed companies to invest in the future and is attempting to restore the failed and damaging Obama-Biden administration Title II net neutrality rules that stifled investment and innovation.  It is also ignoring the help and assistance that many of these providers have offered, at their own cost, to low-income households through various programs to get them connected.  It is time the new administration moved forward and paid attention to the world it is now inhabiting instead of continuing to live in a bunker from the past.