By David Grain, Founder and Managing Partner, Grain Management, LLC
In the aftermath of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) historic vote on net neutrality, policymakers in Washington will continue to debate how to protect the openness and vitality of the transformative medium called the Internet. A broad consensus has emerged over the need for new rules of the road for broadband Internet providers, but disagreement remains over the best means to implement sustainable rules to enable consumers to access the content of their choosing without undue interference from their service providers.
The stakes of this debate are enormous for all Americans, but are especially high for Floridians. Thanks to the foresight and thoughtful policymaking of Florida officials past and present, the Sunshine State has succeeded more than most in harnessing the power of the Internet. As a result, Florida can claim to be among the most developed broadband infrastructure in the country. The Internet has been critical in driving Florida’s economy – enabling start-ups and small businesses to be connected, supporting the creation of thousands of jobs, inspiring investment and transforming our education and healthcare sectors. This progress has stemmed directly from the certainty and stability provided by America’s longstanding light-touch regulatory environment. Light-touch regulation has encouraged the deployment of billions of dollars in high-speed broadband infrastructure providing a wide range of investment opportunities in wireline and wireless network elements, as well as media and technology start-ups and applications
At the center of the current debate is disagreement over the extent to which existing federal law can support the imposition of net neutrality or Open Internet rules. President Obama proposed, and the FCC has now adopted, an approach that would regulate broadband (at least in certain key respects) in a manner similar to basic utility telephone service. This approach represents a profound step backward. It would displace the highly successful regulatory framework for broadband that has been applied for nearly twenty years by FCC chairs in both Democratic and Republican administrations. This regulatory framework has powered Florida’s first-rate broadband infrastructure by encouraging robust private investment and innovation. Such a dramatic shift in Internet policy is likely to inject significant uncertainty into the broadband marketplace – reducing investment and slowing the pace of advanced broadband deployment across Florida, resulting in fewer jobs and fewer communities getting robust access to the Internet.
Fortunately, Florida’s congressional leaders are well-positioned to help develop strong net neutrality rules that protect consumers and also support continued investment and economic growth. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, as members of the Senate Commerce Committee, as well as Representatives Gus Bilirakis and Kathy Castor of the House Commerce Committee, have jurisdiction over these issues. It is imperative that Congress find a legislative solution to settle the net neutrality debate in the best interest of all Americans. Senator Nelson has shown great leadership by vowing to review the FCC’s decision and continue discussions regarding bipartisan legislation. I applaud his commitment.
There is too much at stake to let politics trump pragmatism. Florida’s congressional delegation should work together and craft bipartisan legislation that ensures continued growth of the Internet economy for the benefit of Florida’s technology leadership.