What Consumers Say about Internet Regulation

As the new Congress gets into high gear, net neutrality appears to be at the top of the agenda for many. President Obama saw fit to voice support for net neutrality in last night’s State of the Union, saying he intends “to protect a free and open Internet,” as well as mentioning improving broadband networks and the need for some new cybersecurity legislation.

The issue is an important one.  Today, Congress will kick off two back-to-back net neutrality hearings—the first by the Senate Commerce Committee and the second by the House’s Energy and Commerce Subcommittee. It is time that policymakers listen to consumers.

Despite President Obama’s push for net neutrality, consumers have shown to be very much against net neutrality proposals, especially when it comes to wireless technologies. According to a survey recently conducted by the wireless association, CTIA, only 29% of wireless consumers believe wireless broadband should be governed under the same rules as wired phone service—that is to say, Title II regulations. Just 6% of surveyed consumers said government should have a role to play in options and services provided by wireless broadband carriers.

The CTIA survey is also interesting for what it shows about consumer attitude toward zero rating and data prioritization. More than 67% of those surveyed supported sponsored data packages, or so called zero rating, in which content providers could pay to have their content delivered to consumers without it affecting their data plan caps. According to the consumer survey, 64% also said that wireless providers should be left to manage traffic in the way they best see fit and to service their customers.

Last week at the Consumers Electronics Show, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler endorsed implementing Title II regulations on wireless broadband providers – which would reclassify wireless broadband services from an information service to common carriers, thereby embracing 1930s-style regulations designed for public utilities.

The wireless industry, naturally, is fighting the reclassification, saying that treating an ever-changing industry – one in need of constant investment and reinvention, as if it were a common utility – would be detrimental to the evolution and build out of the wireless broadband industry. As Anna-Maria Kovacs of Georgetown writes, the regulatory uncertainty the potential for Title II reclassification creates could be damaging—more than $110 billion is expected to be spent in 2015 alone.

The reclassification won’t happen if some in Congress get their way. The hearings today would discuss bills that would put into place many of the protections President Obama is looking for, while also barring the FCC from making the Title II reclassification.

Study after study shows the financial problems Title II reclassification could cause. Reclassification could cause a drastic drop in network investment, as well as putting wireless broadband infrastructure governance over to a highly bureaucratic, slow-moving system. As the recent wireless survey shows, consumers are in agreement.

Zack Christenson writes on digital tech issues for the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research organization.  For more information, visit www.theamericanconsumer.org.

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