The Federal Communications Commission just changed the Internet.
The commission voted Thursday afternoon to officially end the series of rules structuring what’s known as “net neutrality.” In its most basic formulation, net neutrality ensures that telecom providers don’t discriminate in providing Internet service to consumers by price or content. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argues that these rules have restricted both competition and investment in broadband expansion, and favor content companies like Netflix over actual providers of Internet service (like Verizon and Comcast). Pai contends that the FCC must regulate less and collaborate more with the industries it oversees.
But when the FCC has previously allowed such “corporate capture” of communication regulation to take shape, it stifled innovation and reduced competition. For example, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) went to great lengths to (successfully) persuade the FCC to needlessly complicate the implementation of FM radio in order to protect its AM network from competition. FM radio, which was ready in the 1930s, didn’t ultimately become widespread until the 1960s.
By contrast, history tells us that if Pai really wants to create a climate of competition and innovation, he would have upheld net neutrality. Time and again in FCC history, regulation has created such a climate.
In fact, promoting consumption and access at the expense of corporate domination is the very reason for the FCC’s existence. By fostering opportunities for new entrants, rather than promoting the interests of established corporations, FCC activism and intervention have historically benefited the media industries it regulates, and the public.