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Another Voice: Net neutrality should have a legislative solution

By Harold Ford Jr.

The FCC’s decision to regulate the Internet with its heaviest regulatory tool available – Title II – will hurt New York jobs and innovation. This decision – which purports to keep the Internet open – reverses nearly 20 years of restrained regulation on the Internet. 

In 1934 Title II was designed to regulate the single-function telephone monopoly Ma Bell. The 21st century Internet, by contrast, is a constantly evolving ecosystem and growing startups like Uber and Spotify.

To date, the Internet’s dynamism has created over 11 million jobs and companies like Google and Facebook. Technology icons like Apple continue to rely on the ecosystem’s unrelenting growth. Apple’s recent launch of its Internet-powered, revolutionary watch will redefine life online for consumers.

Now, supporters of Title II argue that the Internet’s growth – and by definition America’s continued economic expansion – is dependent upon the Internet being free of efforts to block or charge more for the flow of content. We agree on this point.  

We strongly differ, however, about how to accomplish this, since net neutrality can be accomplished without Title II. The answer rests with Congress codifying net neutrality into law, as a growing bipartisan group in Congress is proposing to do.

Unlike an FCC decision, a legislative net neutrality remedy has the advantage of avoiding the legal uncertainty of an FCC ruling and preventing future FCC chairs from abandoning net neutrality altogether.

Equally important, a legislative remedy will encourage the massive private investment from broadband providers that we have benefited from since 1996.

Finally, this legislative approach is supported by a broad cross-section of U.S. businesses. Last December, 60 U.S. manufacturers, including New York-based Corning, IBM and Synacor, voiced concern with the FCC’s Title II approach. “Title II would lead to a slowdown, if not a hold, in broadband build out, because if you don’t know that you can recover your investment, you won’t make it. The investment shortfall would flow downstream, landing first and squarely on technology companies like ours, and then working its way through the economy overall. Just a few years removed from the worst recession in memory, that’s a risk no policy maker should accept, let alone promote,” the companies wrote in a letter to Congress.

Let’s not risk the historic economic and consumer benefit gains we have enjoyed since the 1990s by adopting Title II. Instead, let’s support Congress’ effort to enshrine a permanent solution through bipartisan legislation. And, ensure that there will be an Apple Watch 2, sooner rather later.

Harold Ford Jr., a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee, serves as an honorary co-chairman of Broadband for America.