Should federal regulations designed for rotary telephones be expanded to cover our high-speed Internet use? Incredibly, this question has become a serious issue in Washington, as supporters of Title II regulations promote the idea even in the face of new evidence that Americans do far more online than people in almost every other major country.
Congress drafted these rules during Franklin Roosevelt's presidency. They were meant for the nation's emerging telephone service, which often involved placing calls through live operators and calling during the evening to save money on long-distance tolls. Yet while these problems are thankfully long-gone, some want to apply these antiquated regulations to today's modern, competitive and diverse communication systems through the Internet.
The technological arguments against expanding Title II rules are obvious: High-speed Internet technologies are emerging everywhere, which is why Americans do so much more online than the Japanese, British, Canadians, West Europeans and many others. With all our choices for video streams, downloads, gaming, and cloud storage, Americans on average use more than double the data of the average Japanese or West European. Indeed, the average American Internet user generates more online data than users in all other major nations except South Korea.
The American Internet model is spurring remarkable social improvements. Nowhere is this more obvious than with advancements in home health care. Patients suffering from diabetes, heart and kidney disease, which are leading causes of death in the African American community, are gaining direct benefits from real-time, Internet-based healthcare monitoring.
Regulations and bureaucratic red tape will inevitably slow this progress for no good reason. Indeed, even those pushing for expanded online regulation acknowledge that there's no current problem.
Worse, like a bad Christmas gift, this one comes with a hefty price tag - about $15 billion. That's the total amount of new state and local taxes and fees that consumers will have to pay from this reclassification. Among the states hardest hit by these new taxes and fees are California, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.
For anyone with a smartphone or home Internet connection, the stakes are significant. Expanded regulation would mean new taxes and fees - and people on fixed income would also be hit hard by the new costs, which will average $72 per year for each wireless connection and $67 for wired service.
The most puzzling aspect of this issue, aside from the fact that there isn't a practice that anyone in the debate is pointing to as evidence for this change, is that it detracts from a much more important issue. Our focus should be trained on promoting better and faster Internet service for all, particularly for unserved and underserved communities. As Internet networks become more accessible, it will spur ongoing advances in affordable health care that can unlock huge benefits, particularly for those who cannot easily visit a doctor's office.
This much is clear: Americans deserve an open Internet. They deserve to access whatever legal content they choose without anyone interfering. But applying a set of rules from the 1930s to achieve this is guaranteed to produce more expensive Internet access. There has to be a better way!
Thankfully for us, we have that better way. In rendering an opinion on FCC net neutrality rules in January, the Court laid out a pathway under Section 706 of the Communications Act that would protect the Internet, and ensure that the broadband networks we need built out nationwide would have the best chance to happen. Section 706 provides the best, and least intrusive, means of protecting the wonderful Internet world we all enjoy, and continuing to bring us the benefits we enjoy today.