Legislation needed to rein in government control of Internet

Dave Williams
Dave Williams

For more than two decades, the Internet has changed our lives. Minimal government interference allowed free market forces to work and drove investment and innovation. Then in 2015, the Barack Obama Administration decided the federal government should essentially seize control of the Internet by declaring it a public utility like electric or sewer services. In the meantime, investment in broadband networks declined nationally by billions of dollars.

That unprecedented move is unacceptable. Broadband access has been steadily expanding in Colorado. But that will be negated and progress stymied unless a bill is passed that clearly delineates a minimal role for the federal government. Further expansion and upgrading of Colorado’s broadband networks would help grow our tech industries, create jobs and continue innovation and expansion, especially in rural areas.

The nefarious pretext of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 2015 ruling was that it was to support net neutrality. Few issues have been muddied as much in recent years as this one. But using “net neutrality” as a precursor for relegating the Internet to utility status is beyond the pale. These are entirely different matters.

The thing about net neutrality is there’s no underlying problem to solve. It was conceived ostensibly to stop Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking, throttling down or discriminating against certain websites or data to favor certain sites and their users over others. However, those same ISPs support the underlying principles of net neutrality and have absolutely no plans to violate them because they know their customers would rightfully revolt if they did. That’s the beauty of a free market.

So this is a straw man argument. Let the federal government complete its takeover of the infrastructure of the Internet, and you can bet they won’t stop there. It’s easy to see fees assessed, free speech curtailed and the Internet eventually decaying under the weight of crushing regulations.

In any case, there’s little public support for overseeing the Internet as if it were a public utility. A solid majority of Americans of both political parties believe the Internet should be carefully governed and not treated like a public utility. They’re happy with the way things are because they recognize the benefits of keeping the Internet independent of the government.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said he will try to roll back utility style regulations and return to an open, secure Internet where networks can be expanded and technologies developed and adapted without government permission. But this is only a temporary fix subject to change the next time a big-government administration is in the White House. We need a long-term solution that keeps the federal government at bay while establishing less intrusive net neutrality parameters. That way, companies won’t have to guess the specifics of tomorrow’s regulatory environment.

Colorado’s congressional delegation can make a difference on this issue by leading other conservatives and nipping this problem in the bud with a balanced piece of legislation that specifically addresses net neutrality, but preserves free-market principles. As a fellow Republican, I have faith they will take action in one way or another to ensure government does not hinder Internet ingenuity.

David Williams, a Republican from Colorado Springs, represents District 15 in the Colorado House of Representatives. Reach him at dave.williams.house@state.co.us.