FCC Shouldn't Follow Through on Biden Administration's Title II Plan
Despite no clear evidence on why it’s needed, the return of Title II regulations on internet carriers and fabled “net neutrality” are on the docket for President Biden’s agenda.
President Biden released a lengthy executive order this month that aims to tackle competition policy that was heavily panned by critics like Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA). The order included language that encourages the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reinstate net neutrality.
Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is in lockstep with Biden on the issue, having voted for Title II regulations initially and calling the decision to end the rules “corrupt.”
It may be a while yet before the FCC will act on the issue since Biden hasn’t yet named a third Democrat to the commission and neither of the two Republican commissioner is likely to vote yes on the regulations.
“We recognize that it’s something that we can discuss with the current crop of commissioners, but with a full dais, we may be able to have other options,” Rosenworcel said recently.
Title II regulations prevented providers from blocking, throttling or prioritizing data, but there was scant evidence that providers engaged in widespread actions of this nature before net neutrality was implemented. A 2019 investigation by TPA found few legitimate complaints of nefarious activity by providers after the rules went away.
A study released by the Vienna University of Economics and Business earlier this year indicated that net neutrality rules have harmed the growth of fiber infrastructure and high-speed internet adoption across the globe.
Researchers examined net neutrality policies in 32 of the 37 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED), finding a negative correlation between regulations and internet expansion. The study also found that only Australia and New Zealand had not implemented net neutrality regulations and both experienced better internet development than the other 30 OCED countries.
The researchers noted that uncertainty in political regimes — the various flip-flopping on policy based on whether the left or right is in power — harms private investment. The study said the introduction of net neutrality leads to a total decrease in new fiber investment by about 45 percent.
U.S. providers have invested nearly $2 trillion in broadband infrastructure in the past 25 years. After the investment flattened during the year that Title II was in place, it started to rise after the repeal. Average speeds saw a boost of 40 percent over two years. While the likes of YouTube and Netflix were asked to pull back on resolution in some European nations during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic so that important communications could be prioritized, the U.S. experienced few problems with speeds even with so many people working and learning from home.
But a large digital divide still remains in this country, especially between urban and rural areas. Brent Skorup, senior fellow in technology policy at the Mercatus Center, believes the FCC’s time would be better spent closing that gap rather than putting into place more Title II rules.
"Three times the FCC has decided to regulate Internet services in the name of net neutrality. Two attempts resulted in two court losses, and one was rescinded by the Trump FCC,” he said. “Apparently, the Biden administration wants to reinstate Internet services regulation a fourth time.”
Skorup told TPA that the government is used to having control over broadcast and cable TV. Now that the internet fills the role of the primary information dissemination platform Democrats feel the need to have the government’s hands on it.
“Rather than transform Internet services from one of the least-regulated sectors into one of the most-regulated sectors, the FCC should focus on expanding broadband coverage and competition,” he said. “Internet service providers and tech companies have better things to do than relitigate a no-win net neutrality fight that is entering its third decade."
Michael Powell, president of cable trade group NCTA, told Axios that net neutrality “has become an expensive, time-wasting exercise that has little real world effect.”
"The drama detracts from focusing on genuine broadband issues, most critically our collective effort to get broadband to communities that lack service,” he said. "Of course, we can all suit up to play another game of ping pong, with yet another administration, but the inevitable years-long regulatory proceeding, exhaustive court challenges and likely trip to the U.S. Supreme Court some three or four years from now serves no one."
As the TPA investigation showed, net neutrality is mere smoke and mirrors, unnecessary government regulation promoted as protecting consumers when those consumers don’t actually need protecting. The FCC should stop trying to add red tape and let internet providers focus on closing the digital divide.
Johnny Kampis is a senior fellow and investigative reporter for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.