Mobile Future

FCC Forges Ahead on Excessive Net Neutrality Regulations for Wireless

In just two short weeks, the FCC will vote on new rules to maintain an open Internet. Rather than following any of the smarter paths to net neutrality, the Commission instead seems intent on burrowing our beloved Internet – including even our mobile Internet — into a regulatory rabbit hole that could be very bad news for innovators, investors, and consumers.

Perhaps the most troubling part of the FCC’s expected new rules is that they will expand to cover wireless, a glaring departure from the 2010 approach that sought open Internet protections without imposing utility-style regulations on arguably  the brightest spot in the tech revolution.

As one who has built and led Internet companies both here in the U.S. and in Europe, and as a huge believer in the importance of maintaining an open Internet, I can’t help but fear that the FCC’s extreme approach to Internet regulations could impose unforeseen risks to and uncertainty about not only the Internet’s openness, but its continued vitality and dynamism.  One doesn’t need a history degree to know that technological progress and heavy regulation have never been easy bedfellows.

As a Democrat, it also worries me to see how out of synch the FCC and the White House’s posture on Internet regulation have been with the thus far overwhelmingly successfully framework of flexibility that has defined the past two decades of Democratic innovation policy. These smart and fundamentally progressive policies have led to historic outcomes.   We should embrace, own, and be proud of our party’s long-standing light-touch approach, not turn our backs on it.

Just think of the remarkable advances that have been wrought, in part, because Democrats and Republicans worked together to bring nuance, wisdom, and a boatload of common sense to shaping a clear and workable vision for our nation’s Internet policies.

Since the first iPhone debuted just eight years ago, mobile services have taken the country – and the entire world – by storm.  Global mobile data traffic grew 69% in 2014 alone, according to Cisco’s latest report.  And that number is expected to grow immensely, given that only 26% of total mobile devices and connections were smart last year, despite accounting for 88% of mobile data traffic.  And the U.S. currently is in the lead with more customers on LTE networks than in any other nation in the world.

Let’s be clear:  we all support an open Internet.  But, by reclassifying mobile broadband under Title II of the Communications Act, all companies, both large and small, will have to rethink future business models, opportunities and investments.

Some proponents of the new rules point out that mobile voice is already subject to Title II.  But what is the least used app on your phone?  For many people, it’s voice.  Texting, streaming your favorite entertainment, and checking in on social media far outweigh the use of traditional wireless voice services.  Already,  60% of all mobile data traffic in the U.S. was from mobile video last year.

Mobile broadband has never been subject to Title II regulations and, as a result, we have seen the most growth, investment and network evolution on the wireless side to address growing consumer demand.  In fact, the mobile sector is now so important to our economy that it accounts for 3.2% of the U.S. GDP, exceeding other essential industries such as transportation, entertainment and hospitality.

Our nation increasingly relies on mobile to connect us to everything, as evidenced by the 71% growth in M2M connections in the U.S. last year.

As Chairman Wheeler well knows, the current rules have led to unprecedented growth in the wireless space. Now is not the time to change direction and step back in time. There are other options on the table, including as The Washington Post editorialized this week, relying on Congress, and not the FCC, to strike a lasting solution without creating unnecessary uncertainty as the debate drags.

From our perch today, the Mobile Future is bright. We just hope it stays that way.