Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has supported the principle of net neutrality, and on Monday, he surprised many by releasing a video statement urging the Federal Communications Commission to adopt rules that would treat internet service providers like utilities, and prevent a raft of practices that could be harmful to a free and open internet:
“They should make it clear that whether you use a computer, phone or tablet, Internet providers have a legal obligation not to block or limit your access to a Web site. Cable companies can’t decide which online stores you can shop at or which streaming services you can use, and they can’t let any company pay for priority over its competitors.
“…In plain English, I’m asking (the FCC) to recognize that for most Americans the Internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life.”
You can read the president’s more detailed written statement here, but that quote pretty much says it all.
Republicans have long opposed net neutrality regulations, so while their negative reactions weren’t surprising, they were illuminating. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) got the most attention with his hastily-fired-off and half-baked Twitter reaction:
"Net Neutrality" is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) November 10, 2014
There’s a lot of unintended irony to go around in that statement, but for my money, I would love to see polling on how many Americans want an internet that resembles the pre-ACA private health insurance market. I guess we could all still go to the emergency room of our local internet café.
While less entertaining, Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) reaction to the president’s statement was more revealing. Watch how Rubio hides the ball (via email from Rubio Press Shop):
“The Internet is one of the greatest economic stories in all of history, one whose openness has given people unprecedented opportunities to innovate and create jobs. President Obama’s announced support for more government regulation of the Internet threatens to restrict Internet growth and increase costs on Internet users. Furthermore, applying heavy-handed Title II classification to Internet service sends the wrong message to international stakeholders that look to the United States for leadership in Internet governance, and undermines our support for an open Internet, free of government intervention.
“Instead of reclassifying Internet service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, the FCC should allow Congress to update this law. I believe it should be a top priority of the new Congress to provide clarity on the FCC’s role in the modern communications landscape.”
At first glance, it looks like Rubio is just saying that the president should let Congress keep the internet free and open, but what he’s really saying is that he ought to let Congress gut the FCC’s authority to keep the internet free and open. Just as Cruz unthinkingly used the “Obamacare” buzzword, Rubio deploys “government regulation” like a french tickler on the collective conservative nipple. Regulation = bad, companies = good. The problem with their side of net neutrality is that it only benefits a handful of companies.
As luck would have it, I recently ran across a terrific, simple example of why that is, during an episode of Pawn Stars in which this guy tried to sell these two really old phones for $26,000.00 (also, note to Pawn Stars: You don’t have to show me what’s “coming up” on a show I’m already watching):
That guy with the beard is right, the direct-dial telephone was invented by undertaker Alman Strowger because he was “convinced that the Bell ‘central exchange’ was diverting his incoming calls to a rival embalmer,” which, in today’s internet era, would be like diverting all kitten-GIF traffic to a rival site like FuzzBeed.
That’s what Obama’s net neutrality proposal aims to prevent. Rubio’s solution is, apparently, to prevent it by allowing it, which is similar to preventing gun deaths by giving everyone guns, or protecting marriage and voting by preventing marriages and voting. In case this wasn’t already clear to you, it’s going to be a long two years.