It's Time for Congress to Act And Permanently Preserve the Open Internet
Today’s vote by the FCC to restore Internet freedom and reverse the burdensome threat of Title II regulation is a positive step toward ensuring that the Internet is governed via sensible, transparent, light-touch regulatory policies and procedures. Despite some of the continued hand wringing, the vote does not represent the end of the Internet.
As I wrote yesterday, reiterating a consistent public commitment from Comcast, we will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content on the Internet; we will be fully transparent with respect to our practices; and we have not entered into any paid prioritization arrangements, and we have no plans to do so. Under the FCC’s order, these commitments are now legally enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission – so they aren’t "voluntary" commitments, they aren’t aspirational, and they aren’t hollow. They are binding commitments that we expect to be enforced by regulatory authorities.
Today’s FCC action should represent an inflection point in a decade plus debate over net neutrality. We are at a unique moment in time – where the ISP community, edge providers, and consumer groups have reached a general consensus as to the scope of appropriate net neutrality protections (no blocking, no throttling, prohibiting discriminatory treatment of lawful content, and transparency for consumers). That doesn’t mean all the wording has been agreed to by all parties, but there is a broad directional agreement.
It’s now time for all of us to take advantage of this moment in time and end the cycle of regulatory ping pong we’ve been trapped in for over a decade and put this issue to rest once and for all. And there’s a simple way to do this -- we really must have bipartisan congressional legislation to permanently preserve and solidify net neutrality protections for consumers and to provide ongoing certainty to ISPs and edge providers alike.
The Internet is at the core of America’s digital innovation and technological advancement. It is too valuable to be trapped in the middle of a never ending game of politics and regulatory arbitrage depending on the party in power. We should stop the litigation and legislative threats by the party not in control of the FCC. We need bipartisan congressional legislation to protect the Internet and consumers. Now is the time for both sides of the aisle to come to the table, have a civil discussion, and produce a legislative product that enshrines durable and enforceable net neutrality rules.
Our call for legislative action isn’t new. Since at least 2010, Comcast has called for legislation to cement and protect an open Internet. Here are just a few examples:
Comcast Blog Posts
December 1, 2010: "For many months, we have been working very hard with Chairman Genachowski's office, the Congress, and a broad array of stakeholders to try to find a fair and appropriate balance that would enable the FCC to codify a light regulatory approach that would protect the openness of the Internet but that would also protect the continued investment and innovation that has made the Internet the vibrant and dynamic place that it is today."
February 26, 2015: "After today, the only 'certainty' in the Open Internet space is that we all face inevitable litigation and years of regulatory uncertainty challenging an Order that puts in place rules that most of us agree with. We believe that the best way to avoid this would be for Congress to act. We are confident this can be done in a bi-partisan manner with a consensus approach that accomplishes the common goals of stakeholders on all sides of the open Internet debate without the unnecessary focus on legal jurisdiction and the unnecessary regulatory overhang from 80 year-old language and provisions that were never intended to be applied to the Internet."
April 26, 2017: "In our view, there is no better way to put in place an enduring set of enforceable Open Internet protections than for Congress to act. As telecommunications policy leaders in both the House and the Senate said today, 'it’s now time for Republicans and Democrats, internet service providers, edge providers and the internet community as a whole to come together and work toward a legislative solution,' – we wholeheartedly agree. Bipartisan legislation, as was envisioned back in 2010 by then Congressman Henry Waxman and Cliff Stearns, would solve both the authority issue and end the gamesmanship on the substance of net neutrality rules."
August 30, 2017: "While the record strongly supports that the FCC can and should classify broadband as an information service and preserve incentives for innovation, investment, and an open Internet, there is also significant and growing consensus that bipartisan legislation can and should provide a permanent resolution to the unhelpful game of regulatory ping pong and the endless Title II loop that have plagued all stakeholders since at least 2010… We stand ready to work with policymakers, legislators, and stakeholders to end this regulatory back-and-forth and craft an effective and enduring solution for consumers and the U.S. economy. Ping pong should be for players, not policy."
Many others agree with this approach. Congressional leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, recognize that legislation is the right solution – and have similarly called for congressional action:
Senator John Thune said this week: "As I have stated repeatedly, and I will say again today, Congressional action is the only way to solve the endless back and forth on net neutrality rules that we’ve seen over the past several years…True supporters of an open Internet should be demanding such legislative protections today – not posturing while waiting for years during legal proceedings or waiting for the political winds to turn."
Sen. Thune also noted bipartisan support for this approach "We're in good discussions with Senator [Brian] Schatz…We're hoping there will be other Democrats that will join him and come to the table in an effort to try and codify some open internet principles, the kind of consumer protections that people want but in a way that puts some sort of guardrails against runaway government regulation."
And today, Sen. Thune reiterated "Congress must take the lead in setting a clear path forward through bipartisan legislation to avoid the risk of regulatory back and forth . . .I call on Democrats and Republicans who want to preserve a free and open internet to work together on permanent consumer protections."
Senator Bill Nelson affirmed: "At the end of the day, sometime in the future, there may be an opportunity for a legislative solution, but it has to be a balanced solution that protects the right of the public to a free and open internet." He reconfirmed his support for a legislative solution today.
Another Democrat, Senator Claire McCaskill, agreed: "I have long said that Congress should settle the issue of net neutrality once and for all with legislation to provide certainty for consumers and providers alike."
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed support ahead of the FCC’s vote, looking forward "to Congress’ actions in the future to keep the Internet open for consumers in a lasting way."
More than 100 House Republicans signed a letter urging bipartisan Congressional action: "After broadband is restored to its rightful regulatory home, under the light-touch approach that guided federal oversight of the Internet and nurtured its expansive growth for decades, the stage will be set for Congress to determine how to best enact permanent protections for the bipartisan net neutrality principles on which we will agree."
Telecommunications Subcommittee Chair Marsha Blackburn has reiterated"Let me be clear, Republicans have always supported a free and open Internet. We must move past the partisan rhetoric. Ranking Member Pallone said in 2010 that this is a job for Congress. I agree."
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden has continued to call for bipartisan legislation: "I again call on my Democratic colleagues, edge providers and ISPs, and all those who make up the diverse internet ecosystem that has flourished under light-touch regulation to come to the table and work with us on bipartisan legislation that preserves an open internet while not discouraging the investments necessary to fully connect all Americans. Too much is at stake to have this issue ping-pong between different FCC commissions and various courts over the next decade."
And, both Blackburn and Walden emphasized the need for legislation today after the FCC vote: "Now, the table is set for Congress to provide clear, permanent rules through a bipartisan legislative solution. We hope that all stakeholders, and our Democratic colleagues, will finally engage in serious negotiations soon."
We’ve previously noted multiple other parties – from all sides of the political spectrum, from both politics and industry – who have also previously called for legislation.
Unfortunately, there are others who want to continue engaging in a never ending game of back and forth, creating unnecessary anxiety and contributing to an unneeded level of hysteria. Some will undoubtedly continue threatening litigation that does nothing to protect consumers or freedom of the Internet. Others will say the FCC is shirking its responsibilities, when the real authority truly lies within Congress.
Given the broad agreement as to the content of appropriate net neutrality rules, and a developing consensus that the best road forward is bipartisan congressional legislation, it is hard to make the case that it is not worth a serious attempt by Congress to try to craft a permanent legislative solution. And we should all be a constructive part of such an effort.
As I said yesterday, our Internet practices will remain the same: Comcast customers will continue to enjoy the benefits of an open Internet today, tomorrow, and in the future. Our customers are our priority. That is why we want to suggest a moratorium on charged political rhetoric and ask Congress to enact bipartisan legislation to protect consumers and the open Internet in the years to come, regardless of the outcome of any future elections. We look forward to continuing to work with policymakers to develop forward thinking, bipartisan legislation to end this back and forth once and for all.