Don’t Turn Internet Independence Into Government Dependence

Editor’s note: Daniel Berninger is the convener of the Tech Innovators, a coalition of individuals who helped build the Internet, including Bob Metcalfe, Bryan Martin, Charlie Giancarlo, Dave Farber, George Gilder, Jeff Pulver, John Gilmore, John Perry Barlow, Les Vadasz, Mark Cuban, Michael Robertson, Ray Ozzie, Tom Evslin and Tim Draper.

April marks the 20th anniversary of the commercialization of the Internet, ironically, the very same month that the FCC’s new Open Internet regulations were officially published, tossing the Internet into a public utility model characterized by stagnation and ambiguity. The rules kill the “permissionless innovation” they purport to protect by inviting the Commission to regulate the Internet via the means created for the 1934 monopoly voice telephone system.

The past two decades of Internet-driven success were set in motion with the passage of the High Performance Computing Act of 1991 from then-Senator Al Gore, which proved to be one of the most successful policy decisions of all time. In recognition of the success of our current Internet reality and how its commercialization transformed daily life, Congress should deem April 30 “Internet Independence Day.”

Officiating Internet Independence Day is an opportunity to initiate bi-partisan legislation preserving the private-sector framework of the Internet.

Americans today enjoy a thousand-fold improvement from dial-up modems 15 million Internet early adopters relied on in the 90s. The Internet today reaches 3 billion people and a proliferation of services push communication options far beyond the long distance phone call of 1995.

Instituting 1930s law designed for the voice telephone is assuredly not the answer. To be clear, the FCC’s new Internet rules are a total reversal of the policies that took the Internet to where it is today. The adoption of these public utility “Title II” provisions in FCC’s order totally reverses course, relying on very thin rationale, and puts 20 years of gains in jeopardy.

Telephone-style regulations elsewhere yield stagnation without exception. The uncertain benefits and certain unintended consequences of subjecting the Internet to the telephone network regulations expose the communicating public to unnecessary risk.

The insertion of fiat regulatory powers will prove fatal to the entrepreneurial energies responsible for building what FCC Chairman Wheeler calls “the most powerful network in the history of mankind” – a network that was free from FCC intervention. In fact, the Constitution grants authority to make decisions of this magnitude exclusively to Congress.

The order essentially breaks apart the current Internet, decomposing the market into silos of content companies, Internet providers and end users. These types of artificial distinction asserted for purposes of regulation like those imposed on the telephone network such as “long distance” or “intra-lata” will undoubtedly make innovation impossible.

Put simply, the rules leave advisory opinions non-binding and invite enforcement action. The implications for Internet privacy and cybersecurity remain entirely unknown. Moreover, the Commission argues that it will exercise judgment in what it applies the new rules to or not, but changing definitions does not turn magically make the Internet into something it is not – a telephone network.

Continued litigation leaves the Internet ecosystem in jeopardy without regard to the outcome. The preference for a Congressional action addressing current conditions and issues relative to the prospects of an 80-year-old regulatory framework should not be controversial.

Twenty years of undisputed success is clear. We hope Internet Independence Day can help us recognize the past and correctly map out the future.