AUGUSTA — Access to reliable high-speed internet is critical for everyone in today’s economy, but it is especially critical for businesses looking to thrive in the 21st-century global economy. Over the last two decades, the internet has revolutionized how Maine companies operate and has changed how consumers go about their daily lives. Yet some policymakers are treating the internet like a game of partisan football, and it is Maine small businesses and consumers who stand to lose the most.

In the span of a few decades, the internet has evolved from a curiosity into an ever-present phenomenon. All of this growth was accomplished under a light-touch regulatory framework supported by both Democrats and Republicans who understood that limited and sensible regulation is the best catalyst for growth. Regrettably, that common-sense, bipartisan approach was abandoned in 2015 when the Federal Communications Commission decided that Title II, an intrusive regulatory regime first introduced in 1934 to regulate telephone monopolies, would be applied to the internet.

As business owners and advocates, the members of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce understand that backward government regulations can have negative impacts on innovation and future investment. Unsurprisingly, the archaic Title II rules were ill-equipped to deal with modern technology and resulted in decreased investment in broadband deployment and innovation.

In fact, smaller broadband companies across the country have been forced to halt or cancel their fiber buildout plans, delay network upgrades and eliminate improved and innovative services to customers. This decrease in investment and innovation is due in large part to the increase in regulatory compliance expenditures and uncertainty in the market, which made bank loans and subsequent investment in the network difficult or impossible to justify.

Thankfully, the FCC recently saw the error made by its prior leaders and reversed course, relieving the internet of the burdensome Title II regulations. However, some leaders, both in Congress and at the state level, appear determined to drag us backward.

Congress is attempting to reverse the FCC’s decision through the Congressional Review Act, which would again increase the regulatory burdens being placed on the industry. In states across the country, there is currently an effort to overturn the FCC’s recent ruling and reinstate the regulatory regime at the state level that has already proven to be detrimental to the internet. In Maine, this came in the amended version of L.D. 1610, which began as solely an internet privacy bill and now expands to a greater reach. Businesses hoping to thrive in today’s economy will not be able to reach their full potential if the technology on which they rely is held back by outdated and regressive regulations. Instead, businesses in Maine and across the country need clear, enforceable rules that foster increased investment and promote innovation.

To ensure that the internet of the 21st century continues to evolve and flourish, we need bipartisan legislation at the federal level that permanently establishes clear rules of the road to preserve an open internet and encourage broadband investment and development. Maine needs, and deserves, a sound solution that enables our economy to grow.

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