The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Setting the Internet Free

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


On May 18, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted by a 2-1 margin to open a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Restoring Internet Freedom (WC Docket 17-108).  The NPRM proposes to restore the internet to a Title I information services classification, a status that was stripped away by the February 26, 2015 Open Internet Order (OIO), under which former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, following direct orders from President Obama, reclassified the internet as a Title II rotary dial telephone service. 

Title II, which is part of the Communications Act of 1934, was intended to keep a potential telephone monopoly from occurring.  Title II is not net neutrality, and certainly does not equal an open internet. 

In fact, the OIO effectively closed the internet to future innovation without the express permission of the FCC.  Imposing such rules is akin to saying “This is a good as the internet is ever going to get, and we are fine with where we are.”  America was built on the enterprising and inventive spirit of a nation full of disruptors.  That was how the railroad was built to span an entire continent; the lightbulb was invented; and yes, the internet was developed.  The internet was allowed to grow and flourish through a light-touch regulatory regime, leading to a new economic boon with online shopping, increased educational and job opportunities, and enhanced communications through email and social media outlets.  This type of growth should be encouraged to continue, and can only be done with a truly free and open internet, unhindered by Title II.

 The NPRM proposes to rescind the Title II reclassification of internet or broadband internet access service back to that of an information service regulated under Title I; determine that mobile broadband is not a commercial mobile service; return authority over internet service provider (ISP) privacy practices back to the Federal Trade Commission; eliminate internet conduct standards imposed by the OIO; conduct a cost-benefit analysis as part of the proceeding; reevaluate whether the FCC’s ex ante enforcement regime is necessary; and, seek comments on whether to keep, modify, or eliminate the bright-line rules created by the OIO.

Because of increased transparency under Chairman Ajit Pai at the FCC, which previously did not publish proposed rules in advance of a vote by the commissioners, the public has had an opportunity to view and comment on the proposed NPRM since April 27, 2017.  Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) submitted comments on May 8, 2017, which read in part:

CAGW fully supports reinstating the classification of ISP/BIAS services as information services under Title I of the Communications Act of 1934.  On February 8, 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was the first major overhaul of the Communications Act in more than 60 years, he stated that the law would ‘help connect every classroom in America to the information superhighway by the end of the decade.  It will protect consumers by regulating the remaining monopolies for a time and by providing a roadmap for deregulation in the future.’  The 1996 Act classified the internet as an information service, subject to a light-touch regulatory regime, which allowed the internet and the economy to grow and flourish.

Prior to the OIO, the internet operated under principles based on the FCC’s Policy Statement of August 5, 2005, which provided guidance for ISPs.  The principles were (1) to encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public internet, consumers are entitled to access the lawful content of their choice; (2) To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public internet, consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement; (3) To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public internet, consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network; and, (4) To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public internet, consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.  These bright-line rules served consumers well in bringing broadband to more homes and businesses, and encouraging the vibrant internet ecosystem enjoyed today.

The internet was never intended to be heavily regulated by government bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.  By lifting Title II regulatory burdens from the internet, new communications technologies will be encouraged, benefitting taxpayers and consumers. 

The battle over how best to regulate the internet will not end with this NPRM.  As administrations change, so does the regulatory state in Washington, D.C., leaving the internet to ping-pong back and forth between different governing regimes, creating imbalance and uncertainty in for industry and consumers alike.  Internet freedom will only be finally resolved through a legislative solution that requires all parties to work together to find a bipartisan cohesive solution that will protect the open internet in a technology-neutral and pro-growth manner.

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