Net neutrality requires a bipartisan, legislative solution

Net neutrality requires a bipartisan, legislative solution
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats invited reporters to a press conference last month underscoring their ongoing opposition to the Federal Communications Commission's new Restoring Internet Freedom Order. The lawmakers — focused on pushing to the Senate floor a Congressional Review Act (CRA) vote — took turns stepping up to the mic to offer their hyperbolic thoughts on the order, which lifts Obama-era rules that sought to regulate the Internet as if it were a public utility.

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups MORE (D-Fla.) declared that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai committed an “all-out assault on consumers,” while Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the order “[strangles] freedom of communication.” Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDemocrats ignore Asian American and Pacific Islander voters at their peril Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall Lawmakers mark anniversary of Martin Luther King 'I have a dream' speech MORE (D-Ill.) added that the “un-American” decision will result in small businesses getting “crushed.”

More of the same has been uttered this week during a comically-misnamed “Net Neutrality Day of Action,” but before the caterwauling starts again, let’s take a deep breath.

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It’s clear that these bombastic remarks are merely political theater. The reality is that if policymakers really care about ensuring net neutrality in 2018, they should cease with peddling propaganda tactics and wasting taxpayers’ time — and instead work together on comprehensive, bipartisan legislation.

 

The good news on this front? There is widespread support in both parties and across the technology industry for such legislation. Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump, lawmakers consider app that would conduct background checks: report 'Mike Pounce' trends on Twitter after Trump slip at GOP retreat The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same MORE (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has reiterated that he’s “willing to work with any and all supporters of net neutrality” on a bill. Recognizing the need for a law, Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyYoung insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight Ocasio-Cortez endorses Markey in Senate race amid speculation over Kennedy candidacy House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge MORE (D-Mass.) previously sponsored a net neutrality bill and should be eager to join his colleagues in rebooting the initiative.

So-called edge providers have also called for a legislative fix. Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergOvernight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare Hillicon Valley: Google to promote original reporting | Senators demand answers from Amazon on worker treatment | Lawmakers weigh response to ransomware attacks Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism MORE wrote that his company is “open to working with members of Congress and anyone else on laws to protect net neutrality.” The Internet Association, which represents firms such as Amazon, Google, Netflix, Twitter, and Reddit, issued a statement saying it “remains open to Congress enshrining strong, enforceable net neutrality protections into law.”

Besides moving our political discourse forward, a net neutrality bill would at last establish permanent rules addressing this issue. Until that happens, policy surrounding net neutrality will continue to flip back and forth as Republicans and Democrats take turns in the governing majority.

Predictable policy will strengthen consumer protections, but in the meantime the FCC made vast strides in this imperative with the recent Restoring Internet Freedom Order. The order increases transparency from service providers and directs the Federal Trade Commission to protect consumers from anticompetitive business practices. The FCC also returned internet regulation to the light-touch approach initiated by the Clinton administration and supported by both Republican and Democratic policymakers for over two decades — until partisanship ended that light-touch regulatory environment in 2015.

The Senate CRA would reinstall the heavy-handed regulatory rules that caused a significant drop in telecommunications investment.

Low investment levels harm consumers in the form of unrealized internet access, particularly in rural areas of the country. In so doing, that slows the technological innovations — in everything from first responder communications to traffic system management — that can deliver smarter, less costly government services for taxpayers.

The CRA push by opportunistic Democrats would both reinstate the archaic rules that strangled technological investment and innovation, and return internet regulation to the back-and-forth regime that will cause confusion and uncertainty in the market. The only way forward is with a legislative solution — not by outsourcing power that Congress has to an executive agency.

Our senators have the opportunity to find common ground and pass substantive legislation addressing net neutrality principles. Members expending time and effort on charades including the “Net Neutrality Day of Action” and the Senate CRA should instead shift their priorities to this productive and attainable goal.

Pete Sepp is president of National Taxpayers Union, a nonpartisan citizen group founded in 1969 to work for lower taxes, limited government, and economic freedom at all levels.