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OPINION

Net Neutrality a Net Negative for Seniors

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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At some point we're going to have to change the phrase, "the greatest thing since sliced bread" to "the greatest thing since the Internet." Let's face it, is there anything in our lives more useful, entertaining, educational, enlightening and addictively maddening as digital technology's best gift to mankind since the pocket calculator? Which is why you don't see a lot of people saying, "hey, the Internet is great, if only it could be regulated by the federal government like a public utility or a telephone monopoly."

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At the request of President Barrack Obama, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (an independent agency) is pushing through a morass of heavy-handed regulations on both wired and wireless broadband, commonly referred to as Title II, which will redefine current law and subject the Internet to regulations designed to govern old rotary phones.

Never before has the Internet been subjected to such onerous regulations. The impetuous behind President Obama’s net neutrality plan is to satisfy a campaign pledge given to progressive online activists that have been calling for such far-reaching regulations. What is even more troubling is what the President’s campaign promise will lead to – higher prices for consumers, less innovation for online products and services and less investment in Internet infrastructure.

While the President is fulfilling a campaign promise to online activists, he is leaving seniors behind. According to Pew research, seniors are just beginning to truly benefit from crucial innovations that are revolutionizing health care treatments, education, communication, social activities and wireless services. Instead of hampering the Internet economy with additional rules and regulations, the President and the FCC should focus on measures that will ensure seniors have access to the latest technologies to improve their lives. Resorting to utility style regulations isn’t the answer.

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President Obama and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s net neutrality plan calls for the FCC to reclassify wired and wireless broadband Internet service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Under this classification, the Internet will for the first time be subjected to utility style regulations that include price regulation, increased taxes and fees for consumers, and even requires companies to seek “Mother May I?” government approval for new products and services prior to bringing them to market.

It is clear that these rules will face legal challenges, and while the courts decide, the companies subjected to these rules will have to wait – some believe years – to have a clear picture of the regulatory landscape their businesses will need in which to operate. This type of legal uncertainty chills future investment and forces companies, which have spent billions investing in infrastructure, to sit on the sidelines while this mess is resolved in the courts.

Instead of relying on unelected bureaucrats to redefine existing law so that they can force harmful regulations on thriving industries, Congress needs to step in and responsibly clarify the rules of the road so we can ensure seniors continue to reap the benefits of Internet innovation.

Thankfully, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune have offered legislation that would codify basic and sensible open Internet principles into law. In fact, their legislation includes the core principles that net neutrality advocates, and President Obama, have been calling for.

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It’s time for Washington to stop giving lip-service to bipartisan cooperation and work together so that all communities, including the senior community, can take advantage of the benefits and life-enhancing innovations the Internet economy brings.

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