To read the latest salvo from Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is to gain perspective on John Adams’ disagreement with various “fugitive” pamphlets that sought to confuse the issues associated with ratifying the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Adams maintained that “a confusion of both words and ideas” had so polluted the corporate discourse of the nation that careful examination was required to show the sheer absurdity of proposed alternatives to the final draft of the Constitution. Adams understood what was at stake in the real-life effects of words that might sound appealing on the surface, but would later come to have disastrous effects when fully implemented. Wheeler’s proposal is similarly approching “fugitive” status.
The sheer contortion of language Wheeler uses in what amounts to a public relations maneuver to camouflage an administrative re-classification of Internet Service Providers (ISP) to a public utility under an archaic 81-year-old law is nothing short of deceptive. Since its inception, the Internet has been the catalyst for an innovation revolution, producing thousands of companies that have changed the way people live and work. More regulations will inevitably increase costs for consumers across the board, whether in the form of a blatant tax or higher bills for cell-phone plans, Internet services, or streaming “House of Cards” on Netflix.
Freedom Means Rapid Improvements for Everyone
What first began as a simple webpage with words accessed via a telephone modem has grown into a global broadband network of high-definition content that can be streamed to nearly any device with a screen. The Internet as a whole amounts to a remarkable advancement for humanity and a technological transformation of the United States because of private-sector creativity and ingenuity, but little compared to what could have been achieved by now without government interference.
Advancements and achievements happened because companies were free to rapidly create, review, change course, improve, and develop without regulatory processes that lag and ultimately drag innovation. Wheeler’s 332-page document (embargoed in a “we’ll know what it says once we pass it” fashion so no one can actually read it until it is perhaps too late) is rumored to drastically limit the practices of ISPs, heavily regulate wireless networks, and impose comprehensive carrier regulations that could strangle small businesses and reduce any tactical advantage a start-up has to compete with more established companies.
The complexity of the Internet cannot be compared to an antiquated telephone service. Anyone who works in cyber security, trades stocks online, or uses streaming services to watch movies understands the importance of protecting Internet freedom: one-size-fits-all does not work, and the FCC is not fit to handle the ever-expanding complexity of a continually evolving digital sector. Allowing the federal government to regulate the Internet will grind innovation to a halt and send engineers into exile. Millions of Americans are already jobless. Reducing the job market for the No. 1-ranked career for growth opportunity only compounds that problem.
Say Hello to Internet Price Controls
Small businesses constantly develop new ideas to grow and compete in spaces once dominated by larger providers because small teams are willing to take risks, while large companies (and the government) desire to keep the status-quo. The absence of heavy-handed and arbitrary federal regulations has enabled continuous improvement of consumer goods and services. Subjecting modern technology to Title II of the 1934 Communications Act gives authority to the FCC to set price points for various consumer services. Wheeler’s administrative re-classification of ISPs as “common carriers” will bring them and mobile carriers like T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon under the direct rule of the FCC. The FCC will then be able to set “just and reasonable” standards to prevent what it deems unfair. As Rupert Murdoch said, “The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.” If we cripple the fast, there will be no one left to innovate or create companies like SnapChat, Instagram or Uber.
By doing this, the federal government becomes arbiter of consumer choice and further becomes master of innovation with the Internet as its slave. The massive Title II legislation will, of necessity, be updated in Sections 201-202, 206-209, 216-217, 222, 224-225 and 255. As if that were not enough, an interesting phrase appears in Section 254: A “universal service fund support for broadband service in the future” indicates that this reach by the federal government is far from over.
The FCC seems slow to admit certain initial facts about the proposal, probably because even the FCC knows the creations of government bureaucracies never work out well. Remember Obamacare? As is now expected by this White House and its allies (Wheeler among them), the language of justice, corporate greed, and protection from inequality is employed to deflect any criticism from those who would dare disagree with this administration’s pervasive “fairness” doctrine.
Yet companies constantly innovate to establish more reliable data networks and deliver data faster to consumers at cheaper prices. If left unshackled by needless and costly regulations, the organic competition in the crowded technology sector could continue to propel the United States toward new horizons of capacity and accomplishment. Unless, of course, the FCC has other plans.