How the FCC Redefined the Internet

[Commentary] Is broadband internet an “information service,” as concluded repeatedly over two decades by Democratic and Republican commissioners, or a “telecommunications service” as a partisan majority decreed two years ago? This is a distinction with a profound legal difference under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Telecommunications services are subject to the same restrictions and government controls that applied to the old Bell monopoly starting in the 1930s. Information services have far more freedom to compete and innovate. The real-world effects of this heavy vs. light regulation are dramatic, and they turn on the question of how consumers use broadband internet. 72% of U.S. adults frequently read or watch news, sports or other content online. Sixty-one percent use search engines; 52% purchase items online, and 48% check or post on social media. Smaller percentages store photos, grocery lists and other items. That broadband internet access that enables these activities is precisely what makes broadband an “information service” under the statute. It is impossible to make use of popular video-rich information applications on today’s internet using old-fashioned dial-up access because of the need for higher speeds and lower latency. Returning to the longstanding light-touch framework will offer many benefits to American consumers and encouraging Congress to do its job and modernize the Telecommunications Act for the broadband era, developing and passing bipartisan legislation that ensures the open internet, protects consumers and maintains investment in the nation’s high-speed broadband networks.

[Bruce Mehlman is a lobbyist for broadband service providers]


How the FCC Redefined the Internet