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Don’t Break the Net

February 27, 2015

Whether it is to catch the scores of last night’s game, read the morning news, or stay connected with friends and family, like many South Dakotans, I depend on fast, reliable Internet service. The role of the Internet in our lives is only going to continue to grow. It will keep revolutionizing things like transportation, commerce, agriculture, and education. But heavy-handed government regulation could delay the next big transformation.

On February 26, three unelected officials of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to approve the most controversial agenda item in the agency’s modern history, a policy awkwardly known as Title II reclassification of broadband. The FCC voted 3-2 to impose heavy-handed regulations on the Internet that were designed and intended for monopoly phone companies in the 1930s. The regulations being imposed by the FCC are an attempted power-grab that will create new barriers for innovation and open the door to new taxes and fees on internet service for American households.

In the 317-page rule that has yet to be made public, the FCC gives itself broad power to decide how broadband services may be offered in the market. For example, mobile broadband plans that allow unlimited music streaming could be prohibited by the government. Additionally, the FCC action could make broadband more expensive because compliance with these regulations will increase operational costs for providers that will likely be passed along to customers in the form higher prices for broadband Internet service.

New investment in communications networks will also be threatened. Broadband networks are expensive to build, operate, and maintain, and nowhere is that more apparent than in South Dakota, with our relatively small population and large landmass. 

Advocates for reclassification worry that future entities that control Internet access could abuse that position to affect what content users can access. I have generally not been in favor of instituting government regulations until we know there is a real and actual need. But, to prevent the FCC’s heavy-handed regulatory overreach, I believe it is time for Congress to act by updating our telecommunication laws.

As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC and policies relating to telecommunications and the Internet, I put forward a legislative solution earlier this year to create common-sense rules for the digital road. What I am proposing is very different from what the FCC has jammed through. The FCC regulations are 317 pages. My draft proposal is six pages that focuses on what consumers want – prohibiting practices like “blocking,” which is the process blocking legal content, and “paid prioritization,” which is demanding special payments for access to certain services, all without the legal uncertainty associated with the FCC’s plan.

Above all, I don’t want the debate about protecting the open Internet to be used as an excuse for the federal government to grab control of the Internet from innovators. I will continue to pursue a legislative solution with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address the problems associated with the FCC overreach, and I will fight for policies that maintain the light-touch regulatory structure that has enabled the Internet to thrive.