WASHINGTON – Ahead of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) planned Thursday vote on Chairman Ajit Pai’s Restoring Internet Freedom order to repeal regulation of the Internet put in place in 2015 under the Obama Administration, U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, took to the Senate floor to praise the FCC’s work and transparency while calling supporters of an open internet to support bipartisan legislation. Sen. Thune’s remarks, as prepared, below:
Mr. President, for more than two decades, under both Republican and Democratic Presidents, and Republican and Democratic Congresses, the United States pursued a bipartisan “light-touch” approach to internet regulation.
The internet as we know it today flourished under this “light-touch” approach, much to the benefit of American consumers and the domestic economy.
It also made America the world leader in internet technology, and positioned us to continue that leadership in the years to come.
In 2002, broadband internet was classified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – our nation’s communications regulator – as an information service under Title I of the Communications Act.
This classification exempted the internet from burdensome regulations contained in Title II of the Communications Act, which were designed in the Depression era for the old telephone monopolies.
Under the Obama administration, though, we saw repeated attempts to bring the internet under greater government control.
Finally, in 2015, at the explicit direction of President Obama, the FCC did as it was told and reclassified broadband internet access service as a Title II service, subjecting broadband internet to onerous common carrier rules – and opening the door to further regulation, including price regulation.
Not surprisingly, with heavier regulation came a decline in broadband investment. Indeed, we have seen private investment in broadband infrastructure decline over the past two years.
This decline should not be mistaken as a sign that broadband infrastructure is not needed. In fact, the opposite is true, as there are still 34 million Americans who lack access to broadband services at home.
In states like my home state of South Dakota, encouraging broadband deployment continues to be critical to ensuring rural areas have the same economic opportunity as their urban counterparts.
The federal government should not be putting up barriers to broadband deployment – it should be removing them. Congress and the FCC need to ensure a regulatory framework is in place that protects consumers, but doesn’t stand in the way of investment and innovation.
Prior to the FCC’s 2015 actions to bring broadband under Title II, and for more than a decade under the “light-touch” regulatory framework of Title I, we saw unprecedented growth that revolutionized our daily lives and allowed us to stay better connected with our loved ones.
The internet created new jobs and expanded opportunities for education and commerce. It became the greatest engine of innovation for our times.
And despite the fearmongering and doomsday rhetoric that continues to plague this debate, when the FCC moves forward with its order and restores the internet to its pre-2015 regulatory status, the internet will continue to thrive and serve as an engine for future economic growth.
I commend Chairman Pai and the Commission for all the hard work over the last year that has gotten us to this point.
I also commend Chairman Pai for his commitment to transparency throughout this process.
For the first time in the history of the Commission, under Chairman Pai’s leadership, the public was able to view the Restoring Internet Freedom item three weeks prior to the FCC’s vote.
That is true of all documents to be considered by the Commission – a major departure from the previous administration’s actions, which were often not made public until the very last minute.
As a result of Chairman Pai’s commitment to transparency, the public has the benefit of not only viewing the item, but also participating in the process.
Despite attempts by those more interested in politicizing the issue and distracting from the debate, this item resulted in the most well-informed and exhaustive record of comments ever submitted at the FCC.
The FCC is now well-positioned to move forward to ensure the internet is open and free.
Regrettably, however, the debate doesn’t end here.
The outcry from opponents of the FCC’s proposal is that the internet will fall apart without adequate consumer protections.
There is obviously immense passion that follows the issue of net neutrality. Americans care deeply about preserving a free and open internet. As do I and so many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
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.
If my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and those who claim to support net neutrality rules, want to enshrine protections for consumers with the backing of the law, I call on you today to join me in discussing legislation to do just that.
While we won’t agree on everything, I believe there is much room for compromise. So many of us in Congress already agree on many of the principles of net neutrality.
True supporters of an open internet should be demanding such legislative protections today – not posturing while waiting for years during protracted legal proceedings or waiting for the political winds to turn.
If Republicans and Democrats have the political support to work together on such a compromise, we can enact a regulatory framework that will stand the test of time. I’ve stood willing to work with any and all supporters of net neutrality protections for many years now and I continue to stand ready today.
It is time for Congress to settle this debate and I welcome discussion on ways to ensure a free and open internet for decades to come.