Democratic members of Congress this week moved to replace by legislative means the Net neutrality rules that a court decision last month suddenly rendered defunct. Lawmakers introduced the Open Internet Preservation Act in both chambers.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last month changed the telecom and data landscape by striking down Federal Communications Commission rules that mandated ISPs treat all Internet data the same — that is, they were prohibited from blocking or throttling legitimate content that a paying customer was accessing over their pipes.
The Preservation Act restores what the court vacated in Verizon v. Federal Communications Commission. The FCC rules “shall be restored to effect during the period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act and ending on the date when the Commission takes final action in the proceedings remanded to the Commission in that decision,” the bill states.
There’s not much chance the legislation will win support from Republican members of Congress, David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, told the E-Commerce Times.
For starters, the bill’s sponsors are a who’s who of Republican nemeses: Reps. Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo, both of California, filed the bill in the House; Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Indiana, Al Franken of Minnesota, and Jeff Merkley of Oregon cosponsored the Senate version.
“Waxman and Franken alone would be radioactive to some Republicans during an election year,” Johnson said, referring to their liberal approaches to policy.
Personalities aside, Republicans are not big fans of Net neutrality, Johnson continued. “They see the issue quite differently.”
Net neutrality has been framed as a consumer versus business issue, and Republicans tend to defend business interests when issues are set up in that manner. In fact, Republicans tend to view Net neutrality as an outright antibusiness measure.
“Net neutrality says that ISPs cannot discriminate by charging differently based on user content or platform or application,” Johnson explained. “Well, Republicans have no problem with that and, in fact, think businesses should be free to charge whatever they want — and it is up to the market to accept or reject it.”
Net neutrality fits into the larger theme of big government intervention in the economy, which is anathema to most Republicans, he observed.
A Long-Standing Issue
Net neutrality has been a long-standing topic of debate, with fierce advocates on both sides of the measure. If this particular legislative effort fails to gain traction, others will no doubt take its place, telecom analyst Jeff Kagan told the E-Commerce Times.
“It has been a very long, multi-round boxing match, basically, and with every round we hear that ‘here comes the final blow’ — but that is never the case,” he said.
Both Sides Make a Good Point
The problem is that both sides make valid arguments, said Kagan.
Considering that cable companies and ISPS have invested a lot in their infrastructure, they should be able to price their services as they see fit, he suggested.
On the other hand, Internet service is seen as a vital service to consumers and businesses, and there is no competition to single providers in many parts of the country, Kagan continued.
As history has shown, ISPs will throttle traffic from competitors’ sites.
“This back-and-forth will continue for years,” Kagan said. “What we have to do as a country is come up with a policy that is fair to both sides. How we will get to that point and what that policy is, though, I couldn’t tell you.”