When the issue of net neutrality first emerged more than 10 years ago, some wondered whether it would result in overreaching, heavy-handed government intervention.
We saw this intervention come to life in 2015, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under President Obama took the unprecedented and rather extreme step of classifying the internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act. Under this classification, we are observing the aggressive federal overreach of technology that neglects the democratic process.
Almost everyone agrees that the free market should regulate innovative technology, including technologies presented in broadband traffic, and that the rules and regulations governing utilities under Title II are old and outdated.
These antiquated utility-style Title II rules were never intended to be used for something like the internet. They may have also opened a Pandora’s box of government power grabs. Instead of taking the simple steps to protect net neutrality, regulators and policy makers can now feel emboldened to control other aspects of the internet. Will the next step be federal agencies censoring content or applying taxes and fees — or controlling the internet in some other way?
Even if we can restrain government’s constant meddling in cyberspace, there are other consequences we are already seeing. For example, in the two years since the FCC enacted utility regulations, we have seen lawsuits, innovation has been stalled, and investment in broadband infrastructure has declined, costing the domestic economy tens of billions of dollars a year.
In a state like Florida, which still has many rural areas that need networks updated, lost investment is lost opportunity. And we can always use more jobs — broadband expansion creates shovel-ready jobs and helps others look for employment or conduct business online.
In order to put the brakes on further intrusion on the internet, we need to codify the role of government while also establishing clear net neutrality provisions. That can only be done through legislation enacted by citizen-elected members of Congress that specifically addresses those issues. In 2014, The James Madison Institute released an issue commentary that outlines the importance of congressional authority to enact what is needed to govern net neutrality, if any legislation is necessary at all.
Florida’s congressional delegation should lead the way. There should be strong support for legislation that takes a reasonable approach to limiting the government’s role in the marketplace and driving competition and investment. Our congressional delegation could end the uncertainty that leaves the private industry hesitant to keep investing in and building out broadband infrastructure.
In particular, we call on U.S. SenatorMarco Rubioand U.S. RepresentativesCarlos Curbelo,Mario Diaz-BalartandBrian Mast, who are all leading conservatives, to stand up and make a difference on this issue. The future of the internet is in their hands.
Sal Nuzzoserves as the vice president of Policy and Director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the James Madison Institute, Florida’s premier free-market think tank and one of the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational organizations.