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The Net Neutrality Debate Enters the Real World: What Now?

06.11.2018

If you have eyeballs and a smartphone, you’ve undoubtedly read the warnings: On June 11th, the internet as we know it will cease to exist. Websites will be slowed down and blocked. Small businesses will deflate like day-old balloons, and free speech online will be a thing of the past. Why? Because June 11th is the day the Federal Communications Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order officially goes into effect.

I have looked forward to this day, but not for the reasons some might expect. As CEO of the trade association representing America’s broadband providers, I have looked forward to the coming days, months and years ahead, as consumers experience firsthand what America’s ISPs have known all along — that repeal of a two-year-old bad decision to impose 1930s-era regulation on consumers’ modern-day broadband was sound policy and a real-world nothing-burger for consumers online experience, which continued without so much as a bump.

Go ahead, give it a try. Stream a Netflix series. Tweet your senator. Order a Lyft. Post a Facebook video of your snoring pet. Amazon Prime that Echo. It’s business as usual. You will find the same internet you have always relied upon to watch content, make your voice heard and simplify your life.

From Day One, America’s broadband providers have overwhelmingly upheld their pledge never to block or throttle online content. Despite the tweetstorms and death threats (yes, death threats), all sides in the net neutrality debate have been in violent agreement that an open internet is fundamental to our democracy—an online extension of the freedom of expression that is our birthright as Americans.

And, this commitment isn’t solely altruistic. Our customers demand to be in control of their online experience, and if you look at the companies making headlines for seizing that control—it’s not broadband providers.

One flaw of the 1930s Title II approach is that it sidesteps the most dominant players in the online world today. Yet consumers rightly deserve and expect the same protections across their online experience, whether dealing with Verizon or Google, AT&T or Amazon.

For years, American innovation policy has been consumed by a civil war — fueled by regulatory uncertainty and further fanned by profound scaremongering. Amid all the misinformation, consumers can’t be blamed for being so alarmed. After all, who wouldn’t want to “save the internet”?

While we’ve made important progress at the federal level, the debate has now fragmented into the even worse — and wholly unworkable — idea of having 50 different sets of state rules governing the global internet.

If we had tried to regulate the origins of the internet on a state-by-state basis back in the 1990s, we wouldn’t have an internet to argue over today. Protections should be no different for consumers in Minnesota or Iowa than they are in California or Florida. That’s why USTelecom will vigorously challenge these actions in the courts, fighting for the federal primacy that FCC chairmen from Tom Wheeler to Ajit Pai have historically supported.

As we forge ahead, one thing should be clear to all those concerned with the future of the internet — today’s FCC action rights a massively anachronistic wrong perpetrated against the American consumer. The internet, in all its innovative glory, should never have been regulated under rules written for telephone monopolies in the 1930s. It is a creature all its own, deserving of a 21st century framework that both supports its exponential growth and innovation while protecting its users. And its now time for all its operators — from the edge to the core, along with an engaged Congress — to leave the past in the past, and look constructively together to the future and its many connected possibilities.

NOTE:  This op-ed originally appered in Morning Consult on June 11, 2018.  View the op-ed here.