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Agenda for the 116th Congress: Tech and Telecom

An introduction to the Technology and Telecommunications chapter of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s latest study, “Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 116th Congress.”

As technology and telecommunications evolve, new challenges inevitably arise for policy makers. New mandates or prohibitions should be avoided in all but the most exceptional circumstances. Ill-conceived rules could stifle the high-tech economy, saddling innovative firms with arbitrary regulations or draconian liability regimes. When new advances raise legitimate concerns about public health, consumer protection, or competition, lawmakers should resist the urge to act until they first observe how voluntary institutions—the marketplace and civil society—react to accusations of market failures. In the unlikely event that legislative intervention is necessary, Congress should proceed with the utmost caution.

Net neutrality is one area where Congress should get to work restraining future harmful government intervention. Congress should define both wire and radio Internet broadband as an information service and therefore not subject to common carrier regulation under the Communications Act of 1934. Additionally, Congress should revise the Communications Act to deny the Federal Communications Commission the authority to regulate the provision of broadband Internet access and services that use the Internet. 

Privacy is another area where Congress can protect consumers from harmful government activity. Evolving technologies have eroded many of the legal constraints designed to protect Americans from overzealous officials accessing the private information consumers store with third-party service providers. To remedy that, Congress should require all law enforcement and intelligence authorities to obtain a search warrant before compelling a provider to divulge the contents of a U.S. person’s private communications or other personal information, in accordance with the provisions of the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 387 in the 115th Congress) or tracking the location of that person’s mobile communications device.   

Congress should reject proposals to regulate private-sector cybersecurity practices. Any improvements those regulations might bring about would likely be offset by countervailing economic burdens. Instead, Congress should focus on defending government systems and networks from cybersttacks.

In recent years, Americans have increasingly augmented or even replaced traditional television viewing with Internet-based video services, such as Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Video, and HBO Now. Yet, the U.S. television marketplace remains fragmented because of an anachronistic set of laws and regulations that govern broadcasters, cable television providers, and satellite carriers. Those outdated rules undermine the vitality of traditional media businesses and threaten the future of Internet-based television services. Congress should amend the Copyright Act to give creators of original television programs the same exclusive rights to their audiovisual works as those afforded to other artists, regardless of whether such programming is transmitted over broadcast stations, cable systems, satellite carriers, or the Internet. They should repeal Title VI of the Communications Act and related obligations and privileges for multichannel video programming distributors, except for provisions preempting states and their subdivisions from imposing unreasonable regulations on television providers. Lastly, Congress should eliminate ownership limits and similar restrictions on legacy media businesses, including the newspaper cross-ownership rule, the television duopoly rule, and limits on local marketing agreements.

The United States is home to many of the world’s most celebrated artists and creative industries and the nation’s legal environment has helped contribute to this cornucopia of creativity. The Internet has made it easier to sell copies and licenses to original works, but it has also facilitated the unauthorized distribution of such works on an unprecedented scale. Therefore, Congress should amend copyright laws to address provisions that inhibit consumers’ ability to enjoy original works while also reforming to protect creative works from infringement.

Last year’s overturning of longstanding taxing restrictions by the Supreme Court in the case South Dakota v. Wayfair has made it more important than ever that Congress exercise its constitutional role to protect interstate commerce. Congress should prevent states from exporting their taxation regimes outside their geographic borders, codify rules for physical nexus requirement of state taxation, and support origin-based approaches to remote state sales tax.

For more, read CEI’s “Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 116th Congress.” Previous posts in the Agenda for Congress series: