Let's Save the Internet - Permanently

Let's Save the Internet - Permanently
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

For 13 unlucky years, the Federal Communications Commission has been playing regulatory ping pong with the internet. At the heart of the back-and-forth is a central question: What’s the best way to continue safeguarding net neutrality while encouraging world-leading innovation?

Our nation has never been closer to getting this balance right. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is leading an effort to decouple this modern imperative from hefty, lopsided regulations written at the dawn of radio. He now has a full cadre of FCC commissioners to weigh the pros and cons. And, with the agency’s recent $2 billion commitment to connecting unserved areas, Chairman Pai, son of Parsons, Kansas (population: under 10,000), is keeping his eye on the true prize: linking all Americans to the world of opportunities broadband makes possible.

Meanwhile, members of Congress have returned home to their districts for the August recess after a tumultuous seven months in Washington. For many members, it won’t be much of a “recess,” as they hear from constituents on issues ranging from health care and taxes to national and cybersecurity, immigration, and infrastructure. What do these disparate “kitchen table” issues have in common? The fate of each is deeply connected to the strength and resilience of our digital infrastructure.

Uncertainty breeds anxiety. Broadband providers — the largest investors in the American economy — watch all this push and pull over the internet and worry about stalled investment in network upgrades and expansions. This, in turn, has negative implications for innovators and consumers as well as U.S. job growth and global competitiveness. 

I am confident Chairman Pai will end this uncertainty. But it will be up to Congress to make net neutrality permanent by passing a law. Consumers deserve permanent protections guaranteeing their access to legal online content and sites, which is why the legislation should give the FCC clear authority to prohibit blocking, throttling, and anticompetitive practices involving internet data. But it must also end the ruse that only broadband providers are in a position to exercise control over consumers’ online experience. Simply put, genuine internet neutrality must apply to all internet players. 

These issues are rapidly coming into sharp focus. Reddit and Facebook recently acknowledged the merits of a permanent congressional resolution. Google was recently slapped with a record $2.7 billion fine for unfairly favoring its own services over competitors, and Amazon secured a patent for technology to block consumers from doing in-store price-checks. These developments make plain why online giants adamantly favor archaic rules from 1934, which did not envision the existence of such companies and therefore do not place any limitations whatsoever on their business activities.

We all support net neutrality. But Congress should make these protections permanent — and inclusive. Only by ensuring these fundamental consumer protections cover dominant players across the internet can we save the internet from those who might abuse its power. Yes, we need rules; it’s time we asked everyone to play by them. 

Jonathan Spalter is President and CEO of USTelecom.

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