At its most basic level, members of both major parties support the concept of net neutrality.
A free and open internet is not only a staple of the modern economy and marketplace of ideas, but it is also increasingly used for educational and health purposes as well. There is bipartisan support for the idea that internet service providers shouldn’t prioritize or block certain internet traffic at the expense of others. In fact, I’ve called for bipartisan net neutrality legislation for years and believe there would be strong support in Congress to pass legislation that fits this conventional definition.
But as is true with many other typically non-controversial issues, Democrats have taken the idea of net neutrality and morphed it into a partisan excuse to increase the government’s control of the internet. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did this in 2015 under President Obama when it passed its Open Internet Order to assert broad new government powers over the internet using rules that were designed for telephone monopolies during the Great Depression.
The Obama-era rules opened the door to a whole host of new internet regulations, including price regulations. As a result, broadband investment declined, affecting rural Americans in states like South Dakota the most.
Getting broadband to rural communities is already more challenging than installing broadband in cities and suburbs, and it will only become harder if Democrats are successful in re-instituting the Obama-era rules, as the Biden FCC plans to do this year.
The debate over the future of the internet raises two important questions:
First, why should the American people trust Democrats to rewrite the rules of the internet when they have been proven wrong again and again on this issue?
When Republicans repealed the heavy-handed Obama-era internet rules, Democrats warned that Americans would be getting the internet one word at a time. We were promised the end of the internet as we know it. Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said at the time that corporations would begin restricting how consumers access their favorite websites. Obviously, none of these absurd claims was true.
Second, what exactly is the problem that Democrats are trying to solve by revisiting heavy-handed internet rules?
The internet hasn’t just survived, it’s thrived. New digital technologies are reaching the American people seemingly every day. The United States is now a leader in adopting next-generation telecommunications services like 5G and advanced WiFi. During the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the explosive growth in internet usage, American networks had no problem keeping up with demand.
Contrast this reality with the one in Europe, where internet regulation is much more heavy-handed. European service providers took the extreme step of slowing internet speeds to maintain connectivity, while internet speeds in the United States continue to get faster and faster.
The internet is far too important to jeopardize its future with partisan politics and heavy-handed regulations. Rapid advances in technology and greater usage of the internet mean that we must make smart investments to expand broadband access and keep the United States at the forefront of new technologies. We won’t stay there with failed, partisan “net neutrality” proposals that do nothing to advance the ball.
If Democrats really want a free and open internet, they will oppose the Biden FCC’s heavy-handed power grab.