There’s been a lot of talk since the election on where the first big showdown is going to occur between President Obama and Congress over the use of “executive actions.” Surprisingly, it may turn out that the first battleground won’t be immigration or the environment, but the issue of net neutrality.
So, what is net neutrality? Put simply, it’s the principle that all data going across the Internet should be treated equally. Imagine the Internet in the term once commonly used to describe it: as an “information superhighway.”
You’d want everyone on a highway to have equal access to it, right? But imagine if some people got special access to higher speed lanes and on ramps if they paid more. Imagine if, say, J.B. Hunt Transportation could pay to use faster lanes and quicker access ramps than Bob’s Friendly Trucking.
Pretty soon, poor Bob’s going to be out of business, and J.B. Hunt has one less competitor. That’s not good for capitalism. Further, J.B. Hunt’s going to pass that premium down to its users, who’ll have fewer and fewer options to go elsewhere. That’s not good for consumers.
To apply this to the Internet, say you and a few of your entrepreneurial friends have an idea for a new search engine, one that runs faster and provides better sorting of search results than Google or Yahoo. But when you try to get it up and running, you find out that you can’t complete because Google has flexed its financial muscle and paid Comcast and Time Warner off so that they’ll always have better access and run faster than you.
After the customary months of internal debate and re-debate on the subject, President Obama stepped forth and stated: “I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services.”
What that means in plain English is that he wants the FCC to treat Internet service providers (ISPs) as utilities or “common carriers,” meaning that they’d have more power to make them treat all their customers equally.
Some right-wing Washington types immediately leaped forward to defend the only real principle the wingnuts have left, to wit: “If’n Obama’s fer it, we’s agin it.” Orange John Boehner, alleged speaker of the House, claimed the president’s proposal would “destroy innovation and entrepreneurship” (as we’ve seen, precisely the opposite is true).
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz put down his copy of “Green Eggs and Ham” long enough to take to Twitter and Facebook to call the proposed rule change “Obamacare for the Internet.”
Cruz indicated his utter failure to understand the Affordable Care Act, net neutrality, and the English language by going on to claim that the proposed redefinition “puts the government in charge of determining Internet pricing, terms of service, and what types of products and services can be delivered, leading to fewer choices, fewer opportunities, and higher prices for consumers.”
This, despite the clear language about “forbearing from rate regulation.” On second thought, perhaps this is like Obamacare, if by that you mean “something right-wingers justify opposition to by lying through their teeth about it.”
It should surprise no one that Sen. Cruz is the recipient of over $47,000 in campaign contributions from the biggest Internet service providers, such as Comcast, TWC, et. al. What may have surprised the senator, however, is the number of self-described conservatives who joined their more liberal brothers in geekdom to tell him he’s totally full of it on this subject.
“As a Republican who also works in IT,” one wrote, “you have no clue what you are talking about.” Another wrote, “As a tech and fiscal conservative in Texas who generally votes Republican, I am incredibly disappointed by your completely inaccurate statement.”
That shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, however, because this is by no means a strictly liberal issue. According to a recent story on Time.com, a survey by the Internet Freedom Business Alliance (IFBA), a group led by former GOP Rep. Chip Pickering of Mississippi, found that “83 percent of self-identified conservatives thought that Congress should take action to ensure that cable companies do not ‘monopolize the Internet’ or ‘reduce the inherent equality of the Internet’ by charging some content companies for speedier access.”
Net neutrality is good for the Internet, and since so much of our business these days gets done there, it’s good for the country. This is an issue with support all along the political spectrum, even if it’s opposed by Comcast, TWC, and other corporate behemoths, and by their bought and paid-for shills in Congress.