It’s time to pass a bill that protects the internet
© Greg Nash

Despite what some Trump administration officials believe, too much deregulation isn’t good for the economy or consumers. Science matters. Safety is important. Advocates should have their say. Companies need clear rules to plan for the future and know what is out of bounds. Workers and consumers need safety and quality standards. A sound economy relies on reasonable and restrained regulation that leaves lots of room for innovation, growth and profits. That’s why Congress should stop the ping-pong effect of the Net Neutrality debate as power passes back and forth between political parties. Over time this kind of uncertainty will restrain growth and investment and stymie creativity. It’s time to pass legislation codifying rules that protect consumers and maintain flexibility for companies to innovate.

Relying on a Republican Congress and president to pass laws, Democratic support might seem like a fantasy idea, but for generations telecommunications policy wasn’t partisan. It was and still is wonky, arcane and technical. President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonWords matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Appeals court allows Trump emoluments case to move forward Trump commemorates 9/11 with warning to Taliban MORE’s administration passed the last significant telecommunications law in 1996 with 414 votes in then-Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga.) House of Representatives and 95 votes in the U.S. Senate, then controlled by Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) who was running for president against Clinton at the time! That law encouraged competition among telephone carriers, solidified the subsidization of service for the underserved and kept the internet from being overregulated. Since then, we have seen the explosion of web-based services, mobile phones and digital content consumption.

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This isn’t 1996, and today’s partisans on both sides are even more ideologically rigid, but Congress should be able to work together to find a solution to a problem that impacts business executives and consumers of both political parties. The adults on Capitol Hill just proved it by keeping the government from shutting down. They can do it again.

Internet Service Providers agree there should not be throttling of speeds or blocking of content. Consumers want the benefits of more applications and choices that come from innovative companies and a regulatory landscape that protects users and startups from anti-competitive practices. This sector thrives because of the competitive environment we have experienced over the last 20 years.

Reasonable regulations give the companies I work with in the telecommunications and technology arena the certainty to invest and innovate. Despite the common perception, these companies don’t all agree on the right way to go forward. Most of them supported the Open Internet compromise former Democratic FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski came up with in 2010.

The idea of a legislative solution has been knocking around for years. Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) tried in vain to find a solution that would codify the goals of net neutrality that companies and activists would agree to. It’s time to step back from the ideological abyss and try again.

The rules adopted a few years ago at the FCC were workable only because the commission agreed to forebear the application of the most onerous Title II utility regulations on the books. The problem with that approach is that any future commission could change their minds at any moment. This sector of our economy is too important to leave these rules up to that kind of whimsy. Democrats were too happy with former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s net neutrality decision two years ago to support a legislative solution. Republicans shouldn’t make the same mistake today. Political winds turn on a dime.

Companies need the freedom to create new products and services with the certainty of a predictable regulatory environment. The freedom that spawned face-to-face online communications, social media posting and digital video delivery must be maintained. The wonders of the internet would slow to a crawl if companies had to seek permission from a government agency before bringing new ideas to market. When companies go too far or abuse their freedoms, regulators should be there to step in, but imagine a football team that had to have each play reviewed by league officials before hiking the ball. The game would take six hours and wouldn’t be fun for anyone.

In the end, the innovation economy needs competition, unfettered access for consumers and innovative flexibility. Working together, Congress should surprise the country, remove the politics from setting broadband internet standards and get something done most Americans can agree on.

Jamal Simmons is a political analyst and a co-chairman of the DC-based Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA).


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