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In recent weeks, as the FCC prepares to take comment on new Open Internet rules to replace those struck down by the courts, DC has borne witness to a steady drumbeat of misinformation and scare tactics designed to bully regulators into adopting a radical and unwarranted shift in Internet regulation.
With headlines screaming everything from “The Internet is [Screwed]” to “The FCC Just Killed the Internet as We Know It!” the discussion about how we can ensure the Internet remains a platform for openness and innovation has turned nasty, personal and irrational.
As we’ve said repeatedly, cable broadband providers are unequivocally committed to building and maintaining an open Internet experience. Consumers value this experience, and we value their business. That will not change. That’s why we’ve supported the FCC’s efforts to ensure consumers have basic protections — from the Four Freedoms first annunciated in 2005 to the Open Internet Order that was approved in 2010. Cable companies did not appeal the 2010 order and we still support its principles today – whether or not it’s law.
But in spite of these facts, professional advocates have sought to create public panic in the hopes that the FCC will throw out 15 years of growth and success by reclassifying Internet networks as common carriers and regulating the Internet as a public utility.
But pursuing that course ignores the lessons of history.
Just look our nation’s crumbling public utilities. One in three major U.S. roads are in poor or mediocre condition. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks a year. And in 2011, our electric grid blacked out 307 times, up from 76 in 2007.
Today’s Internet doesn’t suffer these kinds of chronic problems because broadband isn’t regulated like a public utility. It grows and thrives through private investment and a light regulatory touch.
Today’s Internet does not depend on the political process for its growth. And it does not suffer when we experience extended droughts of public funding that can last for years. Instead, the Internet lives, grows, and thrives based on the needs of millions of consumers that use it every day. One way we can ensure this remains true is to dismiss a common carrier solution.
Even regulators overseas have begun to take notice of the U.S. private investment model. Neelie Kroes, the European Union Digital Agenda Commissioner has said, “The writing is on the wall. And many E.U. leaders are abandoning their approach and looking to the American broadband model of infrastructure based competition and private investment.”
In the 1996 Communications Act, Congress stated clearly: “It is the policy of the United States…to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by federal or state regulation.”
What we need to do as a nation is to encourage innovation and vibrant marketplaces. Classifying the most technologically advanced communications network in human history as a common carrier is a terrible mistake. Rather than completely dismantling broadband deployment through common carrier regulation, we should be freely discussing solutions and working towards a rational end that both encourages growth and supports an open Internet experience for all.