Last week, Republican Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Nathan Simington made clear in his remarks at the Free State Foundation that he opposes Title II Net Neutrality.
Appointed by former President Trump and confirmed by the Senate in December 2020, Simington is the newest Republican FCC commissioner. The FCC is the independent agency of the United States government that regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. The commission is the country’s authority for communication law and regulation as well as technological innovation. Simington is one of the five commissioners who leads the FCC.
The way that the FCC deals with questions surrounding net neutrality have been a primary issue that NRB has been monitoring and will continue to monitor in 2021. Net neutrality is the idea that the internet should be free and without restrictions. It requires that service providers treat all content equally—not delaying, accelerating, or blocking any content. This promotes freedom of expression as well as innovation and competition by allowing anyone to have a voice online and ensuring that large companies don’t have the advantage of faster internet over small startups. It also allows content creators the access they need to deliver their service properly without extra fees from internet service providers.
However, net neutrality also plays a detrimental role in network innovation and opens up more opportunities for porn and other objectionable content to thrive online. The FCC enforced net neutrality protections for the first time in 2015 during the Obama administration. During his term, former Chairman Ajit Pai led the FCC in overturning net neutrality before stepping down as Chair of the FCC on January 20 with the inauguration of President Biden.
When the FCC established net neutrality rules in 2015 with its Open Internet Order, it classified internet service providers under Title II of the Communications Act. In 2017 when the FCC repealed these rules, internet service providers were classified under Title I.
While Title II concerns what are called “common carriers,” Title I deals with “information services.” Title II has stronger regulations than Title I. Over the years, advocates for net neutrality have argued that these regulations are necessary for net neutrality rules to exist, but opponents say that they are overburdensome regulations.
“We can’t talk meaningfully about freedom, free markets, or deregulation in telecommunications without mentioning net neutrality,” Simington said. “In my confirmation hearing, I said that I believed in a light touch regulatory regime. Title II net neutrality can have a light or a heavy touch. As it is likely to be back on the agenda this year, I think we need to get serious about what different approaches may mean.”
During his remarks, Simington said that there would be consequences—perhaps unintentional, but still harmful—if Internet Service Providers were to be regulated under Title II and discussed his position that Title II regulation would harm infrastructure investment.
“I come from the world of corporate and project finance, and that’s where I see some of the worst consequences if we aren’t very thoughtful about what kind of Title II we get,” Simington said. “My biggest worry about Title II is really that, after a few years of chilling effects on infrastructure construction, we will find ourselves in an entirely avoidable and artificial broadband infrastructure crisis.”
Simington made clear that he opposed restoring net neutrality under Title II, but he concluded his remarks by acknowledging that he approached this subject with an open mind.
“I pledge to talk to anyone who wants to talk about this, to bring a respectful, open mind to the conversation, and to do my best to understand everyone’s concerns,” Simington said. “Mutual trust and confidence is the basis of progress here as anywhere.”