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Net Neutrality: Another Win for Losing

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Last Friday while everyone’s attention was focused on the potential for a government shutdown, House Republicans passed a bill to repeal federal rules barring Internet service providers from blocking or setting different prices for some uses of their networks. According to the Associated Press, in voting to repeal rules on “network neutrality” set down by the Federal Communications Commission, Republicans claimed that the FCC lacked the authority to impose such rules.

“The FCC power grab would allow it to regulate any interstate communication service on barely more than a whim and without any additional input from Congress,” said Representative Greg Walden (R, OR), a sponsor of the legislation. The vote to pass the bill, H.J. Res. 37, was 240-179. This is the same House that voted 228-192 on a bill to defund National Public Radio last month. It is yet another bill unlikely to pass in the Senate and doomed to a presidential veto if it should.

The concept of “net neutrality”, according to the New York Times, holds that companies providing Internet service should treat all sources of data equally. The debate centers on whether those companies can give preferential treatment to content providers who pay for faster transmission, or to their own content, “in effect creating a two-tier Web, and about whether they can block or impede content representing controversial points of view.”

Before the House took up a joint resolution condemning the new Internet access rules, Verizon and MetroPCS brought a lawsuit to court that challenged the FCC’s pending rules to keep Internet service providers from blocking access to certain Web sites or applications. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit rejected the suit as “premature.” Although considered by some as a first-round victory for the F.C.C. and its chairman, Julius Genachowski, the real battle over the commission’s attempt to regulate broadband providers has only just begun.

Julius Genachowski, FCC ChairmanIn a recent meeting with Wall Street Journal reporters and editors, Genachowski said, “I don’t see any circumstances where we’d take steps to regulate the Internet itself.” He added, “I’ve been clear repeatedly that we’re not going to regulate the Internet.” In trying to craft new rules that would require phone and cable companies to treat all legal Internet traffic that flows over their lines equally, the FCC had proposed a draft of “net neutrality” rules last fall. “The communications line piece is something that we have historic responsibility for [in] promoting competition and promoting innovation. So that is the distinction,” Genachowski said.

Internet service providers, of course, say there’s no need for the government to step in, as do other opponents of the FCC.

Freedom Works called the FCC rules “job-killing regulations [that] would involve significant new controls on the Internet that would have significant implications for investing in innovation and broadband deployment.” In urging passage of HJR 37, it posted, “The FCC should respect this fact—and the careful separation of power laid out in the US Constitution—and not make such sweeping law where the legislature has not.” Naturally, anything that conservative organizations and Republicans don’t like, out comes the Constitution.

Another organization, Americans For Prosperity went as far to charge that “Chairman Genachowski, a long-time executive at Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp, one of the leading corporate beneficiaries of net neutrality, is currently attempting FCC’s second foray into Internet regulations.” The fact is that no FCC commissioner may have a financial interest in any FCC-related business.

Consumers Union opposed the legislation. “Internet providers should not limit your choices to their preferred sites,” said Parul P. Desai, the organizations policy counsel. “Key stakeholders – from consumers, to small business, to civil rights groups and religious organizations – have overwhelmingly voiced support for Open Internet rules as well as the FCC’s authority to implement and enforce them.” Unfortunately, they did not refer to the Constitution in their opposition.

Democratic policymakers called free and open communications “a vital part of American democracy.” At the Free Press’s National Conference for Media Reform, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) said she was pleased by Democratic opposition to the GOP-backed resolution, which cleared the House under the cover of the looming shutdown. “No one should be guarding the gate on the Internet,” Pelosi said. She added that the resolution isn’t likely to gain support in the Senate. “I don’t think this bill is going anyplace.”

As I pointed out in Blogcritics two years ago, there is a difference between a regulation and a law. As an independent regulatory agency, the FCC has the power to impose regulations at any time without action by either the executive or legislative branches. The new regulations, which the FCC calls its Open Internet Order, are the rules that House Republicans attacked.

Their claims against Net Neutrality regulations favor corporations over consumers. Their proposition to “stop the FCC from asserting authority over the Internet that Congress has not granted it” ignores the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which does. Once again House Republicans have backed a losing proposition. Where is the bliss in that ignorance?

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About Tommy Mack

Tommy Mack began his career in broadcasting and is a US Army graduate of the Defense Information School. He worked in Army Public and Command Information and earned a BS in Liberal Studies from the State University of New York, Albany. A marketing communications executive, Tommy became a business management consultant for a major international consulting company and its affiliates before establishing Tommy Mack Organization, a business consulting practice specializing in organization and communications management. A professional writer and blogger, he writes about politics, business, and culture.
  • The “bliss” here is in protecting the rights of both consumers and businesses and not imposing arbitrary standards which will stifle the growth of the internet.

    You imply that Republicans are acting alone here, but one of the co-sponsors of the bill was Dan Boren who is a Democrat and the bill did receive some votes from sensible Democrats. In addition, one of the “conservative” groups you cite in the article is Consumers Union which is actually a left-leaning group, but one which is very serious about protecting consumers.

    In addition, the EFF which is also very much not a conservative group has described the Net Neutrality bill as a “Trojan Horse” and strongly opposes it.

    So it’s opposed by a combination of conservative groups and civil liberties and consumer rights groups, and when those two come together it’s a sure sign that something is a bad idea.


  • Chad

    For the sake of clarification, Dave, I must point out that the EFF does support net neutrality, but believes that it should be made into a law by congress rather than being enforced by the FCC, which I agree with. However, that isn’t about to happen anytime soon.

    When net neutrality first became an issue, it was completely non-partisan and supported by some of the most conservative groups out there, such as the American Parent’s Television Council, Christian Coalition, and the Gun Owner’s Association. What happened? The telecoms framed it as a “government takeover” of the Internet. Lately, that is all any corporation has to do to get thousands of conservatives to defend their right to extort consumers and shred the first amendment.

    I have been a republican my entire life, but I am also a computer networking major and this mess has left me pretty disgusted with most republicans as well as quite a few democrats. The battle against “Big Government” has turned into a witch hunt. On top of that, all of the biggest opponents to net neutrality have received grotesque amounts of lobbying money from the telecoms, namely AT&T. In fact, no company spent more money lobbying on capitol hill in 2010 than AT&T did, and that creeps me out.

    Do please remember, that just because groups oppose the FCC’s plans, does not mean that they oppose the concept of net neutrality all together.

    How is giving ISPs the power to block and throttle whatever they please supposed to protect investment and innovation? At best it would protect them to the detriment of every company that uses the internet(all of them), and I don’t even see how it will keep them investing in their networks. Without net neutrality rules, they will be able to milk their existing networks for all they are worth; and when they do invest, it will only be towards their own managed services and not the world wide web as we know it.