Manufacturing Matters

Let's Not Turn Back the Clock

America’s network of wired and wireless broadband services is the envy of the world. And America’s economy has been transformed as a result.

Since 1996, $1.3 trillion in private-sector broadband investment has brought faster and easier connectivity, not to mention expanded job opportunities, to millions of Americans. 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 tech revolution drove new opportunities in the manufacturing sector. All types of technological innovations—including software, sophisticated machine-to-machine technology on the shop floor, the connected car and especially the Internet—have fueled a period of unprecedented growth in manufacturing.

Today, manufacturers are tech companies, and tech companies are manufacturers.

This revolution was led by innovators and visionaries—men and women who saw the future’s possibilities and were unafraid to face the challenges needed to get there.

Unfortunately, nearly two decades after the dawn of the Internet, an act of bureaucratic fiat threatens to abrogate future growth opportunities in our tech sector.

Despite opposition from manufacturers spanning all industry segments, President Obama’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently voted in favor of new rules—400 pages of new provisions— to regulate the Internet using 1930s-era telecommunications laws enacted during the period of radio tubes and rotary telephones.

In other words, three unelected, unknown and unaccountable bureaucrats have nationalized the Internet. In the process, they have seriously endangered the innovation and creativity responsible for the most massive scale of human connectivity in the history of the world. 

Among those who will bear the consequences of the FCC’s shortsightedness: manufacturers in the United States and consumers who benefit from their ability to leverage cutting-edge technologies. 

During the 1990s, President Clinton and congressional Republicans opted for a market-based, pro-competition approach toward growing the fledgling Internet. This touched off a wave of investment and growth not seen anywhere else in the world.

Now, the FCC wants to replace this successful formula with an antiquated regulatory regime—one in which the ultimate vision for the future rests not with entrepreneurs, but technocrats and government attorneys toiling in obscurity. 

This approach toward regulation of the Internet will result in reduced consumer choice, stifled innovation and—in all likelihood—new taxes. 

America’s wireless and wired broadband infrastructure has been constantly improved, enhanced and made more efficient by waves of new investment. By contrast, Europe's harsher regulatory environment has deterred new technologies from springing up as they have done in the United States. 

In effect, not only is the FCC trying to fix problems that do not exist, its “solutions” will create new problems. Even the most well-intentioned regulatory action carries with it tremendous cost. And, while some manufacturers may not see the FCC’s decision as having adverse regulatory impacts on the manufacturing sector, it absolutely does.

Manufacturers need the freedom to make timely and necessary capital investment decisions and to integrate new technology into every aspect of their products and processes. The FCC’s new rules create a level of uncertainty that will chill future investment decisions. 

Manufacturing has always been important to America’s growth. It brought our country to a position of greatness. It provided a path to economic stability for millions of its citizens. Its output resulted in higher standards of living and better relations with people and countries from across the world. And, its continued success hinges upon the ability to embrace ever-higher levels of technological innovation. 

To that end, the National Association of Manufacturers will continue to call upon the FCC to rethink this antiquated, regressive, ultimately damaging decision. We will continue to make our case to Congress to create legal certainty to safeguard the future of manufacturing in the United States and its high-tech sector. And, we will educate American consumers as well. 

When it comes to manufacturing, technology and the Internet, past rules do not apply. It is time for the bureaucrats to step aside and let the innovators lead.

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Member Focus.