Washington, Please Leave the Internet Alone


President Obama’s call for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—an independent agency—to regulate the open Internet has reinvigorated a conflict that the marketplace, the FCC and the courts had been working to solve on their own.

Caught in the crossfire are manufacturers in the United States, who have incorporated cutting-edge technologies into their products and processes.

Today’s manufacturers are innovators. They integrate technology in every aspect of their businesses. All types of technological innovations, including sophisticated modeling software, integrated machine-to-machine technology on the shop floor and connected vehicles, have helped power a period of unprecedented growth in the manufacturing sector.

Manufacturers have become technology companies. They have leveraged the Internet to compete, deploy new technologies, connect with their workforce and their customers, reduce costs, cut waste, enhance the environment and create safer, more reliable products. President Obama’s proposal to regulate the Internet, using an 80-year-old law enacted during the era of rotary telephones, threatens to curtail future investment in our nation’s communications infrastructure, which has helped fuel this manufacturing innovation engine.

During the 1990s, President Clinton and congressional Republicans opted for a market-based, pro-competition approach toward the fledgling Internet. It worked. And this approach sparked a wave of investment and growth not seen anywhere else in the world. In 2013, the Progressive Policy Institute found that the cable and telecommunication industries led the list of companies investing in the United States with $46 billion. The trillion dollars invested, since 1996, by companies in America’s telecommunication infrastructure has resulted in faster and easier connectivity, not to mention jobs, for millions of Americans.

Given the staggering success technology has helped drive across all manufacturing sectors, it makes no sense for President Obama to reverse course and now apply an antiquated command-and-control regulatory framework to the Internet. In effect, he’s trying to fix something that simply isn't broken.

And, his proposal is already having a chilling effect on technological investment.

Just recently, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson announced he will “pause” the company’s planned $18 billion expansion of new high-speed Internet services in 100 cities, citing uncertainty over what the FCC plans to do in the wake of President Obama’s announcement. 

America’s wireless and wired broadband infrastructure is the envy of the world because it is constantly improved, enhanced and made more efficient by new investment and innovation. By contrast, much of Europe still depends on creaky DSL technology, and its harsher regulatory environment has deterred new technologies from springing up as they have done in the United States.

President Obama’s proposal will stifle future investment and innovation while yielding no commensurate benefits for consumers. The proposal also complicates manufacturers’ ability to make the timely and necessary capital investment decisions we need.

In a recent survey by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and Building America’s Future, our industry gave positive marks to the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure; however, only 34.9 percent reported the network that moves information and data is improving at a pace to keep up with job creators’ needs. The continued uncertainty brought on by the specter of possible regulatory action further prevents manufacturers from using the best technologies in the world.

Manufacturing has always been important to America’s growth. It has brought our country to a position of greatness. It has provided a path to economic stability for millions of its citizens. Its output has resulted in higher standards of living and better relations with people and countries from across the world. It propels us toward new and higher levels of technical innovation.

And when it comes to manufacturing and the Internet, Washington needs to step aside and let the innovators lead—just as we always have. 

Originally published on December 9, 2014 in USA Today, www.usatoday.com.