FCC chairman: Our job is to protect a free and open internet

Commentary: Ajit Pai says the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which takes effect Monday, protects consumers and will promote better access to the internet.

Ajit Pai FCC Chairman
Ajit Pai was designated chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in January 2017.
Ajit Pai
3 min read
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

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I support a free and open internet. The internet should be an open platform where you are free to go where you want, and say and do what you want, without having to ask anyone's permission. And under the Federal Communications Commission's Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which takes effect Monday, the internet will be just such an open platform. Our framework will protect consumers and promote better, faster internet access and more competition.

Our approach includes strong consumer protections. For example, we empower the Federal Trade Commission to police internet service providers for anticompetitive acts and unfair or deceptive practices. In 2015, the FCC stripped the FTC -- the nation's premier consumer protection agency -- of its authority over internet service providers. This was a loss for consumers and a mistake we have reversed. Starting Monday, the FTC will once again be able to protect Americans consistently across the internet economy, and the FCC will work hand-in-hand with our partners at the FTC to do just that.

Transparency is also a critical part of our framework. In the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, the FCC strengthened its transparency rule so that internet service providers must make public more information about their network management practices. They are required to make this information available either on their own website or on the FCC's website. This information will allow consumers to make an informed decision about which internet service provider is best for them and give entrepreneurs the information they need as they develop new products and services. Our transparency rule will also help ensure that any problematic conduct by internet service providers is quickly identified and corrected.

Why am I confident that this approach will work? Because it was a tremendous bipartisan success for two decades. At the dawn of the commercial internet, President Clinton and a Republican Congress agreed on a light-touch framework to regulating the internet. Under that approach, the internet was open and free. Network investment topped $1.5 trillion. Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, and Google went from small startups to global tech giants. America's internet economy became the envy in the world.

But then in 2015, the FCC chose a different course and slapped heavy-handed regulations from 1934 -- known as "Title II" -- on the internet. This was the wrong decision. Rules designed for the Ma Bell monopoly during the era of rotary phones were a poor fit for the greatest innovation of our time, the internet. Following the FCC's decision, network investment fell by billions of dollars -- the first time that had happened outside of a recession in the broadband era.

The impact was especially harmful for smaller internet service providers who didn't have the means to withstand a regulatory onslaught. These providers often serve rural and lower-income areas where better internet access and competition are most desperately needed. But they were forced to spend scarce funds on regulatory compliance rather than building out broadband to more Americans.

Monday, we are ending this flawed approach and allowing smaller internet service providers to focus their efforts on deploying more broadband, connecting more Americans with digital opportunity, and offering more competition in the marketplace.

That approach will be very positive for consumers. For instance, recently I heard from a rural broadband provider in Vermont called VTel. VTel wrote to say that "regulating broadband like legacy telephone service would not create any incentives for VTel to invest in its network. In fact, it would have precisely the opposite effect." The company went on to say that it's now "quite optimistic about the future, and the current FCC is a significant reason for our optimism." Indeed, VTel just announced that it has committed $4 million to upgrade its 4G LTE service and to begin rolling out faster mobile broadband that will start its transition to 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity.

The bottom line is that our regulatory framework will both protect the free and open internet and deliver more digital opportunity to more Americans. It's worked before and it will work again. Our goal is simple: better, faster, cheaper internet access for American consumers who are in control of their own online experience. And that's what the FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom Order will deliver.