America needs bipartisan solution to settle the score on net neutrality

America needs bipartisan solution to settle the score on net neutrality
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While the Save the Internet Act was introduced with good intentions, it polarized Americans to the point it was ‘dead-on-arrival’ long before Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellO'Rourke responds to Buttigieg's gun criticism: 'That calculation and fear is what got us here in the first place' Cicilline on Trump investigations versus legislation: 'We have to do both' The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation MORE blocked it from a vote.

With nearly 50 Democratic members of Congress calling for a bipartisan solution to net neutrality, it’s time to rethink how we make sure the internet is truly open for everyone.

It’s clear that only legislation with bipartisan buy-in has a chance at passing in a split Congress. Fortunately, a newly-launched set of net neutrality principles produced by a diverse group of experts could give policymakers a head start on a lasting solution.

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A megabit of hope

These days, it seems the United States is so politically divided people can’t even agree on the color of the sky. No wonder net neutrality has been debated for over a decade.

Net neutrality sounds like a good thing for consumers. It gets tricky when you consider the technical implications of any rule or legislation.

Even the definition of “net neutrality” is a problem, because it means something different in other countries. In the U.S., the issue is mostly about whether or not an Internet Service Provider (ISP) can favor content from one provider over that of another. For instance, it determines whether an ISP could let you freely binge-watch movies on a streaming service owned by its parent company but throttle content from a competitor. 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has tried to set rules on net neutrality for nearly 15 years. Every time it passed an order, it was taken to court. And with every order and court case, advocates grew less willing to go back to the negotiation table.

Consumers deserve reliable, predictable access to the open internet. The U.S. is overdue for a long-term solution, and only Congress is in a position to act.

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Resolving an issue this divisive may seem impossible, but we can learn a lot from the collaborative approach global internet decision-makers use to overcome even greater obstacles.

Most Americans probably don’t remember or understand the significance of the 2016 IANA transition to internet users around the world. But trust me — that alone should give hope to even the greatest of skeptics.

Learning to play nice

Nearly a year ago, a bipartisan group of U.S. experts came up with a game plan to tackle net neutrality and find a way forward. They included over 50 participants from 42 organizations with a wide range of opinions on the matter, including those that supported or opposed past rules.

The group set out to be as inclusive as possible, with representatives from left- and right-leaning civil society organizations, technical experts, FTC and FCC legal experts, ISPs, edge providers, academics, and others.

In almost a year’s worth of meetings, they trudged through some of net neutrality’s toughest issues to create a set of principles that protect the interests of internet users while fostering investment and innovation online.

It wasn’t always easy, but participants were fueled by a shared desire to settle an issue that has dragged on for too long.

A gambler would have had good reason to bet against the process. But in one meeting after another, participants came closer to consensus on one of the most heated topics in internet policy. If nothing else, the resulting principles are proof that it is still possible to find common ground in a divided America.

Did everyone involved agree on every aspect of net neutrality? Definitely not. The report outlines where participants disagreed; however, it also highlights groundbreaking compromise on some serious sticking points.

The way forward

The internet only works because it is made of many independent networks that agree to work with each other. If we want a lasting solution on net neutrality, we need to take the same approach.

We can’t afford to keep arguing. It’s bad for consumers and it’s bad for business.

It’s time to come together, compromise, and make sure the internet is truly open for all.

Katie Jordan is Senior Policy Advisor, North America, at the Internet Society. She joined the organization in March 2018 and currently supports, develops, and advocates for the Internet Society's Internet-related public policy positions on access, security, and privacy in the United States and Canada. Follow her on Twitter @ke_watson