ITIF Proposes ‘Grand Bargain’ on Broadband Policy to Safeguard Net Neutrality While Closing America’s ‘Digital Divide’

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The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation today proposed a legislative “grand bargain” on broadband policy to simultaneously secure open Internet protections under a new, specially tailored legal authority while committing substantial resources to bridge the country’s digital divide.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) today proposed a legislative “grand bargain” on broadband policy to simultaneously secure open Internet protections under a new, specially tailored legal authority while committing substantial resources to bridge the country’s digital divide. ITIF argues its proposal would provide a regulatory framework that is superior to the Federal Communications Commission’s recent attempt to “modernize” Title II of the Communications Act—thereby securing long-sought policy gains for Republicans, Democrats, and the millions of Americans now living without an Internet connection.

The new report—“Crafting a Grand Bargain Alternative to Title II: Net Neutrality with Net Adoption”—argues that the FCC’s classification of broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service not only hurts innovation and investment, but also does not even guarantee net neutrality, because the courts or the next administration could reverse the decision. These circumstances create the need and a window of opportunity for legislation that addresses not just net neutrality, but also a more serious policy problem: the country’s stubbornly persistent digital divide. Even as more and more services migrate online, 25 percent of U.S. adults live without broadband at home. ITIF argues everyone in the United States needs Internet access if the digital economy is to reach its full potential, and a grand bargain could address all of these issues in a single, bipartisan deal.

“Broadband policy should not be a partisan issue,” said ITIF President Robert D. Atkinson. “Unfortunately, this debate has been swept up in America’s increasingly bitter culture wars, with one side championing market freedoms for service providers and the other fighting for strict government oversight. But now there is an opening for well-crafted legislation to achieve policy goals that everyone wants. Congress should seize the opportunity to end years of net neutrality questions and at the same time take significant strides toward boosting digital literacy and Internet adoption. This deal would be win-win.”

ITIF proposes a legislative grand bargain that:

-Clarifies that broadband Internet access service is not a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act;

-Puts widely agreed-upon open Internet protections, including no-blocking, no-throttling, and transparency, on firmer legal ground;

-Allows pro-competitive traffic differentiation for applications that require it, while preventing anticompetitive abuses of prioritization;

-Gives the FCC reasonable, but bounded, jurisdiction to enforce open Internet rules and accelerate deployment of advanced telecommunications capabilities; and

-Significantly expands the scope and funding of digital literacy and broadband adoption programs such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Adoption Toolkit, the administration’s ConnectHome initiative, a broadband-focused Lifeline program contemplated by the FCC, and initiatives to build out broadband in rural areas with no wired infrastructure.

ITIF Telecommunications Policy Analyst Doug Brake said, “There is wide agreement that there should be some form of open Internet protections, but Title II classification is a poor long-term solution. For one thing, the D.C. circuit court or the next president could easily undo the FCC’s order. Moreover, despite the FCC’s attempt to forbear from some of the more onerous provisions in the outmoded law, the inherent uncertainty of Title II’s sweeping authority will likely moderate much-needed investment. Congress could easily provide less controversial, more permanent, and equally effective protections through legislation.”

“Title II was written assuming a static network doing one thing—switching telephone calls. It is not appropriate for something as dynamic as broadband,” said Brake. “The FCC’s proscriptive regulations will chill innovation and experimentation, consigning us indefinitely to the broadband of today. With new legislation, Congress has a chance to create a framework that allows the broadband of tomorrow to flourish.”

ITIF argues that coupling net neutrality legislation with major steps to close the digital divide would give a grand bargain broad, bipartisan appeal. The report recommends that existing federal programs aimed at digital literacy and adoption should receive significantly more resources, a national clearing house should support local efforts, and funds should aim to close the access divide for users in high-cost rural areas.

For Democrats, the appeal would be locking in permanent net neutrality protections while making substantial progress in closing the digital divide. For Republican opponents of Title II, the deal offers a way of regulating net neutrality—and avoiding a presidential veto—that is less onerous in its impact on network innovation and investment.

“Congress needs to ensure that the Internet continues to be the fount of innovation and creativity we enjoy today and that everyone can share in it,” said Atkinson. “This deal helps get us closer to a better, smarter network than the one we have today—one that supports a rich diversity of applications that virtually all Americans are actually online to take advantage of.”

Read the report.

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