Democrats in the House and Senate today introduced the Open Internet Preservation Act, a bill that would reinstate now-defunct net neutrality rules that were shot down last month.
Net neutrality, in its most basic form, is the idea that ISPs must treat all Internet data the same. Under its regime, ISPs are not allowed to selectively speed up or slow down information requested by their customers due to their selective gatekeeping of the services impacted. Or, more simply, Comcast can’t decide that a site you want to load, or a video you want to watch, should be slowed, and content that it prefers, accelerated.
With last month’s striking of the FCC’s net neutrality ruling, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has changed the landscape of the Internet.
Those in favor of net neutrality view the regulatory scheme as key to a free, open, and level playing field. Its antagonists decry it as government regulation of something, namely the Internet, which has worked just fine thus far, thank you.
The Preservation Act — full text here — is short and merely “restores” what was “vacated” by the court’s decision. So it would take us back to where we were in December.
According to the National Journal, the act has all but no chance of becoming law because “Republicans are almost entirely united in opposition to the Internet rules, meaning the bill is unlikely to ever receive a vote in the GOP-controlled House.” The bill has been introduced in both the House and Senate, but passing merely half the bicameral Congress is roughly as useful as trying to reform your local DMV.
Other voices were quick to criticize its thrust. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) dismissed it as “counter-productive,” saying that “insisting on stagnation in the essential infrastructure of the Internet is no way to promote innovation and the public interest.”
The gist of the AEI’s argument, if I can summarize, is that if ISPs are prevented from charging fees to content providers — think Netflix, et al. — it stunts their potential revenues and therefore investment into further infrastructure. This argument is somewhat circular, as the Internet has seen rapid and massive investment in its life while existing under the conditions that the FCC wanted to codify as the regulatory standard.
The bill’s sponsors see the world slightly differently than the AEI, focusing less on theoretical lost rents from a third-party non-participant to the customer-ISP relationship, and instead hitting on consumer protection and choice:
“The Internet is an engine of economic growth because it has always been an open platform for competition and innovation. Our bill very simply ensures that consumers can continue to access the content and applications of their choosing online.” Rep. Waxman
It has always been my view that forcing ISPs to treat all content equally is the correct way to ensure that all voices — the new, the established, the next, and the marginalized — have space. If YouTube had been forced to pay extra carrier fees early in its life, or Netflix for that matter, would they have become the giants they have? If we increase the marginal expense of reaching consumers in a random fashion by granting ISPs that power, we cede the advancement of technology to demonstrably conservative actors.
And there is a simple question of who decides. If ISPs can censor and slow at will, what can stop activist networks from pushing on those companies to halt what they do not approve of? If a religious group called Comcast complicit in hate speech for delivering content Internet users requested that they found blasphemous, what can Comcast do? We’re removing their shield of “we deliver all to all equally,” which could harm ISPs down the road.
That the parties exposing themselves to that sort of trouble are the precise parties calling for the end, now I suppose the continuance of the end, of net neutrality is ironic, and sad.
Top Image Credit: Flickr (Image cropped)