2016 crowd rushes net neutrality

A handful of potential 2016 candidates are rushing to define their position on net neutrality following President Obama’s call for the Federal Communications Commission to impose tougher regulations. 

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz's Dem challenger slams Time piece praising Trump Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election 32 male senators back Senate women's calls to change harassment rules MORE (Texas) was one of the first out of the gate, quickly tying Obama’s proposal to treat the Internet like other public utilities to ObamaCare. 

“The biggest regulatory threat to the Internet is net neutrality,” he said. “In short, net neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet.”

Obama said the FCC should impose regulations that would prevent some companies from purchasing faster Internet lanes to deliver their services. His comments were seen as a strong defense for net neutrality.

The issue is not expected to play a significant role in the 2016 presidential election, but activists on both sides said the issue is important to base voters in both parties.

“It is something I think both sides can go to their base on this and point to this as a policy that is relevant in 2016,” said Wayne Brough, the chief economist at the conservative FreedomWorks, which opposes Obama’s plan.  

“If one is trying to present oneself as a politician of the modern era who is trying to rally the youth vote in particular, I think that it is a very important position,” said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, which supports Obama’s plan. 

Other 2016 contenders weighed in this week as well. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) expressed opposition, while Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) supported the president.  

Others, including Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton takes swipe at 'false equivalency' in media coverage of 2016 election Former presidents, first ladies come together to honor Barbara Bush Romney: Parts of Comey book read 'too much like a novel’ MORE, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, have not taken a position. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP senator: Democratic opposition to Pompeo 'driven 100 percent by politics' Pompeo lacks votes for positive vote on panel CIA declassifies memo on nominee's handling of interrogation tapes MORE's (R-Ky.) office did not respond for a request for comment.

Administration officials said Obama's proposal tracked closely with promises he made during his first presidential campaign in 2008, when he said he would “take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality.”

Obama called on the independent FCC to use the strongest authority possible to enforce open Internet rules online. Reports have indicated FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is pushing for a more nuanced approach.

Supporters of net neutrality want the FCC to finalize rules as soon as possible, but litigation and action by the GOP-led Congress could keep the issue alive throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Rubio said a main focus of Congress in the next two years should be to “provide clarity” on the FCC's regulatory authority over broadband Internet.

Both Rubio and Cruz sit on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction on the issue.

Brough, the FreedomWorks economist, said Cruz’s background on the issue could make him particularly vocal.

“He might be more sensitive to it and talk about it more than some of the other candidates might,” Brough said.

Other Republicans have not weighed in. But back in 2012, when his father was still running for president, Paul endorsed an Internet manifesto that disparagingly described the broader concept of net neutrality as another phrase for the government acting as an “arbiter and enforcer.”

Similarly, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) voted against a net neutrality proposal as a member of Congress in 2006, along with nearly every other Republican at the time.  

The issue might be most prominent in a Democratic primary. Activists helped push supporters to submit nearly 4 million comments to the FCC earlier this year, surpassing previous records.  

Warren and Sanders both gave ringing endorsements of Obama's proposal.

Sanders, who is publicly considering a White House run, framed the issue as a fight against an “army of Comcast and Verizon lobbyists” who oppose the strict rules. Warren, who has maintained she will not run for the White House, urged the FCC to put Obama's plan in place “as soon as possible.” 

O'Malley, who is also seen as mulling a White House run, said the Internet should not have “gatekeepers” picking winners and losers online. 

Clinton supported net neutrality legislation while in the Senate and said last month that “it is absolutely clear to me we have to keep the Internet open.”

Public Knowledge, a supporter of Obama's proposal, cited Clinton when describing the Obama administration's dedication to the Internet. 

“Starting with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's push to open the Internet globally, the administration's strong antitrust enforcement to support competition in the digital marketplace, and now strong open Internet rules for the U.S., the Obama Administration has demonstrated world leadership to promote freedom of expression,” the group said earlier this week.