The Real Threat to the Internet: Old Rules, Red Tape and Hidden Fees
Think about that rotary telephone. The bulky piece of black, yellow or avocado-colored plastic with the long curly cord mounted to your kitchen wall, or on a side table next to the couch. The one where dialing a zero and watching it cycle back around seemed like an eternity. “Innovative” isn’t the word that immediately springs to mind, right? Call waiting seemed life changing at one point; an answering machine was incredible and ‘state-of-the-art’. But today, the art of communicating is flush with innovation. We text, we Skype, we email, we ‘YO,’ we upload and download, we Viber, we Voxer, we use mobile phones as walkie-talkies, video production units, weight management systems, remote offices, retail check-out points and on occasion, we tap the app for “telephone.” But that voice connection is pretty much where the similarities end between communications today and that old rotary phone. Today, the revolutionary benefits of the Internet and communications marketplace to consumers are vast and growing.
Some people—including President Barack Obama—are asking for the Internet, and the technologies that it supports, to be regulated like a public utility, using rules written for the rotary telephone era of the 1930s. Unfortunately, the President and other Title II supporters will create many negative unintended consequences, if the FCC imposes Title II, including tacking on even more fees to every Colorado consumer’s bill. The net effect – no pun intended – of applying outdated rules to today’s communications landscape would result in the implementation of requirements laid out in the Communications Act of 1934, an era that is the equivalent of the communications Dark Ages. These dark ages kept innovators from creating, companies from investing in advanced technologies and consumers from being able to enjoy the benefits enjoyed today. In fact, it was only after the FCC made a choice not to apply overbearing rules and regulations to the Internet that the digital world we enjoy was able to develop and proliferate.
The current regulation has enjoyed a strong, diverse, bi-partisan coalition of support for over 20 years and made it possible for innovators to innovate and for Americans to get online in droves. Consumers and entrepreneurs alike have advanced by leaps and bounds as a result of policies that acknowledged that the federal government should let innovators create, and consumers to enjoy, today’s Internet world. Today, more than 95 percent of Americans can get mobile broadband, and 97 percent of those can choose among three or more mobile providers. And based on data from President Obama’s own National Broadband Plan, more than 95 percent of Americans have access to fixed high-speed broadband service, and 88 percent of those can choose from two or more fixed providers. Widespread availability of state-of-the-art broadband connectivity has helped bring about numerous broadband-enabled technologies and devices that consumers can use to improve their lives and get things done.
Given the amazing success of the Internet ecosystem, it still isn’t clear what problem the old-regulation supporters are trying to solve. Today’s Internet works amazingly well. Speeds are getting faster, access is widespread, and today’s networks can support the applications and services that consumers need and want. The question is, what’s the best approach to deliver the fastest, most reliable, and accessible Internet.
In solving a problem that isn’t there, regulators could also cause a new one—making Internet access less affordable for Colorado consumers. In a study recently released by the Progressive Policy Institute, experts argue that applying Title II could increase annual fees for Coloradans by as much as $116 per year for wired Internet access and as much as $120 for wireless Internet access. When totaled nationwide, this adds up to an added $15 billion in fees for consumers.
Protecting and preserving the principles of the Open Internet is critical; we can all agree on that point. Ensuring that consumers can access the legal content they wish is also crucial. Defending the Internet experience we cherish where everyone has access, without degrading the ability to access any specific website, is central to what most Internet supporters care about. But the type of overbearing Title II regulations being considered would not protect consumers from the fears at the heart of their arguments. Instead, these proposed Title II rules would threaten innovation and investment in our networks and the affordability of Internet access for everyone.
It’s impossible to predict how far old-regulations will reach into the current ecosystem and how it will affect businesses already operating on the Internet. Businesses of every size that make software, apps, operating systems, and devices could also be subjected to the old rules, slowing the pace of innovation and growth and creating the kind of uncertainty that slows investment.
Applying Title II regulations to 21st century technologies would hinder innovation; radically alter the thriving, competitive environment that has served us so well for so long and threaten the basic affordability of Internet access. The “golden age” of the rotary phone is behind us and what could aptly be called the “silicon age” of technology is at hand. Applying old laws, overbearing regulations and expensive fees to what is working despite the lack of bureaucratic oversight, could risk the future of the Internet itself.