Congress, we need a federal net neutrality law now
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Looking back at years of net neutrality battles, and the choices facing us today, I am reminded of the famous saying that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”  

The more we debate Title II versus Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, the more it is clear that everyone wants the same outcome: we all want an open internet. The issue is determining which path will best enable the internet to be most accessible to Americans for opportunity, innovation and entrepreneurship, with the requisite transparency and privacy protections. Let’s end this debate once and for all. A bipartisan Congress should put its differences aside to create a federal law that governs the internet.  

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The solution to this is problem is not whether we go with Title I or Title II — the solution lies in “Title X,” a new law that will expressly set out the rules of the road for the entire internet ecosystem. The simple fact is — and I think most of us agree — that we do not want anyone to arbitrarily block or slow content on the web. We do not want discrimination in the flow of traffic on the internet. We want transparency in how our internet usage is impacted by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), edge providers and the government. 

 

Further, as we build out these digital networks, every community must be free of digital and infrastructure redlining. Just as we need more than one bank in every neighborhood, we need broadband from sea to shining sea. If you are worried about an open internet, then I implore you to be worried about an affordable and accessible internet to seniors, rural Americans, people of color and other vulnerable populations. 

We must also require a strong and efficient Lifeline Program, the program that provides inexpensive home and mobile phone service, as well as well as broadband service, to millions of Americans based on their income. Title X must state that Lifeline shall include broadband to be relevant in a digital age.

Finally, we must address the issue of privacy on the internet. All of the providers of the fruits of the internet must comply with and be held to the same privacy rules. It makes no sense to have laws that apply to ISPs but not to the edge providers, like Google, Amazon and Facebook. Each of these companies represent virtual monopolies in the digital space, and they all utilize some form of paid prioritization. We cannot continue to pretend that they are start-ups. 

Imagine if someone proposed that Google, Amazon and Facebook be regulated as public utilities? Most consumers do not know that edge providers have access to and monetize the personal data of their users far beyond what ISPs are allowed to do. Even fewer people realize that even when they log out of their “free” edge applications and search engines, they are still being tracked and monetized. My favorite motto: When the product is free, you are the product. My point is that they should all be treated the same on the internet.

We live in an age where disagreements about how to regulate the internet push us to respond as nastily as the tools at our fingertips allow. Perhaps this is why bipartisan solutions seem impossible and out of reach. Our lawmakers need to summon the courage and commitment to create a free and open internet for the whole ecosystem. 

We all deserve an internet solution that continues the American trajectory of promise, innovation and connection. The best way to do this is to create a comprehensive, bipartisan, open internet law now. Reaching across the aisle may seem old-fashioned, or even impossible in this day and age, but it really is the job of Congress to work collaboratively to create a solution that benefits and protects all Americans.

The result would be a brand new law — I like to call it “Title X.” Title X would be a law that harmonizes the ecosystem that has nurtured the innovation and led to the U.S. becoming a global leader in speed, access and adoption, while ensuring strong consumer protections — across all platforms and regardless of their provider. If ever we needed an X factor, we need it now, if we are to maximize the power and the promise of the internet.

Kim Keenan is the president and CEO of Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council, a national advocacy and policy organization that focuses on media, tech and telecom. She is the former General Counsel and Secretary of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).


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