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Freeing The Internet From Telephone Regulation

By John F. Jones, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Government Relations

Yesterday’s decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to open a rulemaking on the long-debated open internet issue was a good day for the internet and public policy. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’ s boldness in seeking further comment on such a volatile issue is to be commended.  

If the path the FCC now suggests is adopted later this year, we will see a return to lighter-touch internet regulation that sparked the growth, innovation and rapid spread of broadband prior to the FCC’s 2015 order.

Freeing the backbone of the internet from antiquated Title II telephone regulation is the first step toward developing holistic guidelines for the entire internet ecosystem. Unfortunately, the previous application of piecemeal regulation was designed to give some providers an economic edge while placing the costs of upgrading the internet squarely on the backs of infrastructure builders and their customers.

Instead of focusing on arcane legal terms, Chairman Pai’s approach focuses on the consumer and what will become increasingly important for those who use the internet, not those who sell content over the internet.

That’s because his approach does two things. First, it creates a transparent process designed to address consumer protection issues with a modern regulatory approach under the Federal Trade Commission. And second, it will spur the growth and innovation in the broadband infrastructure that consumers demand.

Both consumer protection and investment incentives are impeded by looking backwards to 1930s-era regulation that was designed for monopoly telephone providers and their customers.

Can this antiquated mindset ever be an appropriate regulatory framework for something as robust and evolving as the global Internet?  If you appreciate innovation, investment and a robust internet experience, then the answer is clearly no.   

Various reports are now showing industry-wide network investment has dropped 5.5 percent from 2014 to 2016 as a result of the 2015 FCC regulatory action. That alone clearly demonstrates the chilling effect government regulation can have on a sector that has been so successful with a light-touch regulatory approach.

No one, including internet service providers like CenturyLink, disputes that some government oversight and protections for consumers are warranted. It is in the best interest of our customers and our company to ensure the best internet experience possible. CenturyLink has not and does not block the lawful content of others.

Given the much-publicized opposition to Chairman Pai’s recommendations, it’s clear there is a deep-seated desire to keep the internet open and available to everyone. The path the FCC is now taking will foster much-needed additional discussion. 

More important though, the American public should demand a set of standards and practices agreed to by a bipartisan Congress and codified into law that will provide long-term stability and predictability for both broadband users and providers alike. That is a long-term outcome that will benefit all. 

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