Home internet news Column: Depression-era regulation not the answer for free and open internet

Column: Depression-era regulation not the answer for free and open internet


Jayme Sellen, For USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Published 4:57 p.m. CT July 13, 2018

It has been a good year for tech in northeast Wisconsin.

Plans are moving forward for the STEM Innovation Center at UW-Green Bay, Microsoft has teamed up with the Packers on TitletownTech and, most recently, Foxconn announced an innovation center in downtown Green Bay.

But these and future tech advancements could be in jeopardy if lawmakers and some activists get their way and restore the so-called net neutrality regulations the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) smartly repealed last December. The steps being taken in Washington, D.C., could have significant consequences here in Wisconsin.

The debate can get a little confusing, but here’s the short story on what happened. Back in 2015, the FCC voted to regulate the internet under Title II of the Communications Act of 1936. That’s no misprint. The FCC thought that it made sense to apply to the internet a depression-era regulatory scheme developed for rotary phones and electric utilities.

Last year, the FCC, under new leadership, decided to reverse the 2015 decision and allow internet service to move forward as it had done so well for so many years. 

However, now some members of Congress are attempting to overturn the FCC’s decision to repeal the 2015 rules and have launched a Congressional Review Act (CRA) process that would trigger a vote to re-institute Title II Depression-era regulations on the internet.

The measure, which has passed the Senate and is now in the House, could have a major impact on the lives and livelihoods of Wisconsinites — both in our major cities and in our rural communities — and lead to a loss in innovation and a lack of progress in statewide internet and broadband technology deployment. In all, the CRA would be a misstep in the fight to ensure an open Internet.

Instead of trying to put handcuffs on internet innovation, Congress must come to a bipartisan, comprehensive legislative solution to protect the internet. It is the single leading economic driver in today’s world — responsible for more than 10 million jobs and contributing a trillion dollars in economic activity in 2016 alone. Prior to the Title II net neutrality regulations implemented in 2015, the internet experienced an unprecedented period of growth. Wisconsin benefited as well — 85 percent of residents now have access to broadband and local providers continue to make advancements in an effort to drive that number to 100.

Despite doomsday claims that providers will begin arbitrarily charging fees and blocking certain content, the internet has continued to operate as usual. Providers have made it clear that they stand by their policies of no blocking, throttling or discriminating in online traffic.

But without a 21st-century fix for this 21st century technological problem, those Title II Depression-era utility regulations will discourage investment, hinder innovation and put jobs at risk. Economists have estimated that the 2015 regulation may have led to more than $4 billion in lost investment. Those numbers are staggering and attest to the need for bipartisan support of an open and free internet.

To do this, Congress should enact bipartisan legislation that prevents any further regulatory back-and-forth with each new administration. And voters agree by a wide margin. An April survey of 1,000 registered voters found that there is a clear call for permanent legislation.

I call on Wisconsin’s representatives in Washington to listen to these voters and work toward building a bipartisan, comprehensive solution for our Internet. It is vital that we safeguard an open internet in order to foster further economic growth and do so through permanent legislation, not a partisan CRA process. I encourage Congress to come across the aisle and work together on a viable solution for all.

Jayme Sellen is the vice president of government & community relations for the Greater Green Bay Chamber.

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