Get ready for fake news from tech giants about broadband regulatory reset
© Greg Nash
Elections have consequences, and the 2016 presidential election is certainly having an impact on internet regulation—a very beneficial impact, in our view. But you won’t get that impression from social media or some of your favorite websites. So this is your warning—and your explanation. 

The new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, is determined to keep both the Trump administration’s commitment to eliminating harmful regulation and his own commitment to undo the two-year-old mistake of regulating the Internet under the old Title II analog Bell telephone monopoly laws written in the 1930s.

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Chairman Pai understands what he is up against and shows every sign of being braced for the coming fake news onslaught, and you should be as well.

 

To steel yourself for the upcoming furor, you must understand that there are players in the Internet economy who are not content to allow the Internet ecosystem to develop naturally.

In a free market system, we recognize that no one is smart enough to know in advance how a particular industry or market should look. So we allow markets to develop naturally based on the sum total of all the real-time decisions, investments and risk-taking made by all stakeholders, without the heavy hand of government trying to determine and distort the outcome. Think of the free market as a computer simulation and government regulation as a bug, and you get the idea.

But some very powerful players in the Internet ecosystem aren’t necessarily content with a market outcome. They want an outcome that advantages them. They gain from regulation, and they will use their access to consumers and lobbying clout to protect their position.

But what Pai is proposing is simply a return to the policies that Made the Internet Great.

For almost two decades, beginning with the Clinton administration, Congress and the FCC decided to take a light-touch approach to Internet regulation, and the Internet rewarded that approach with such incredible innovation that it has become essential to modern life.

Until the Obama administration got swamped in the 2014 mid-term election, that is.

After his disappointing mid-term, purely to fire up his dispirited troops, President Obama made a YouTube video calling for the reclassification of the Internet under 80-year-old laws. Those would would gain a favored position through regulation loosed the dogs of war, and a Democrat-controlled, no longer independent FCC complied.

In the last two years, the pace of investment in broadband infrastructure has declined and the rollout of access to unserved areas has slowed. Pai is absolutely correct to undo this mistake and reset Internet regulation to its previous, light-touch approach.

But in coming weeks it’s going to get ugly. Fake news and misleading rhetoric will flood social media, websites will go dark in protest or urge their users to oppose the FCC’s move. They will say the Internet is being censored, or turned over to big business, or that the free and open Internet will come to an end.

None of this is true. It’s simply a return to the original policies that allowed the Internet to grow and flourish, and a just-in-time reversal of nascent Big Government control over the Internet.

It’s going to be very difficult for opponents of reversing Title II to make sound legal arguments against the reset, since they spent years making the case that the FCC had precisely the authority to reclassify broadband as it saw fit.

Instead, what you’re about to see in the next few weeks and months is special interests trying to hang on to an advantage gained through government regulation through misleading and manipulating their users. Don’t be one of the manipulated.

Tom Giovanetti (@TGiovanetti) is president of the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI), an independent, nonprofit public policy organization based in Dallas.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.