This week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on a bill, HR 2666, which would prevent the FCC from regulating broadband rates. In fact, the FCC’s Chairman Tom Wheeler is quoted as saying “Let me be clear, the FCC will not impose ‘utility style’ regulation…” when
issuing the Commission’s decision to subject broadband service providers to regulations that govern telecommunications services – Title II of the Communications Act.
That begs the question, why pass a bill that reiterates what the Chairman promised? There are a couple of reasons why. First, FCC Commissioners do not have permanent appointments—they are appointed by the President and serve five-year terms. While we doubt anyone questions Chairman Wheeler’s integrity, the next set of Commissioners may not hold the same view. Second, regulating rates in utility- style fashion does not really fit the fast moving technological changes that come with the industry providing internet services. Third, talk about a damper on investment – subjecting broadband networks to the government’s slow ratemaking process would surely have a negative effect.
As we understand this issue, no one is purporting to restrict the FCC’s ability to protect the consumer with respect to broadband access or technology companies who rely on an open internet to conduct business. Women-owned businesses have much to lose if the government does not properly balance internet access with regulation.
We are keenly aware that according to the SBA Office of Advocacy, “Small businesses, defined as firms employing fewer than 20 employees, bear the largest burden of federal regulations. As of 2008, small businesses face an annual regulatory cost of $10,585 per employee, which is 36 percent higher than the regulatory cost facing large firms (defined as firms with 500 or more employees).” Small businesses are usually the losers when it comes to more regulation.
The Congress ought to pass this bill. Broadband access is a critical lifeline to all businesses. Business certainty resonates throughout our economy—especially small companies. Putting the FCC intent into law with respect to broadband rate regulation is a good idea.