Fresh off the semi-miraculous news that the FCC is actually going to flip-flop on chairman Tom Wheeler’s terrible, ISP-friendly stance on net neutrality and reclassify internet access as a utility using its Title II powers, Congress has stepped forward to dump a pitcher full of cold water on the web’s communal hard-on. The Daily Beast’s Tom Collins reports that 31 members of the House have co-signed a piece of legislation titled “The Internet Freedom Act,” of which 29 have collectively accepted $800,000 in campaign contributions from major Internet service providers:
“The 29 co-sponsors received over $800,000 from AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and their lobby, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA).
“The legislation would invalidate rules instituted by the FCC last week that declared the Internet a public utility and disallowed telecoms from forcibly slowing or blocking Web traffic to competitors, or separating the Web into artificial, cable package-like tiers for lower-paying users.
“The bill was brought to the House floor by Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and 30 Republican colleagues. In the last year, Blackburn received$87,000 from those Internet service providers, or ISPs, and their lobby, through her campaign committee and her political action committee, MARSHA PAC. This included a maximum $25,000 donation from AT&T.”
These 29 Republicans are essentially dripping in telecom cash at the same time that they’re defending telecom largesse with the bizarre argument that net neutrality has something to do with Obama’s looming socialist tyranny. It doesn’t. In fact, Americans largely agree that the two main things they despise most in the U.S. is A) a crazed, do-nothing Congress and B) those fucking ISPs.
The most hated institutions in the private sector are bribing the most hated institution in the public sector to pass a law hated by the entire internet. That’s not conjecture; it’s a statistical reality.
Congress’ reactionary opposition to anything resembling reform and seeming willingness to dole out huge tax benefits and subsidaries to anyone who flips them a loose penny have made them the most-hated branch of government for years. Just ask Gallup, which in December 2014 found that congressional approval ratings remain at near-historic lows. The trend conveniently began when the natural Republican inclination to protect the power of the extremely wealthy and mega-corporations against the angry masses was blossoming into a full-blown obsession. Approval ratings have stagnated as GOP congresspeople held unending votes to repeal Obamacare, hold never-ending hearings on Benghazi and endlessly obstruct every matter of the president’s agenda, no matter how tiny or beneficial.
Republicans and Democrats alike are swimming in ISP cash, but the GOP effort to derail net neutrality the same kind of mindless obstructionism that has led to most people despising it. It’s telling that not a single Democrat has co-sponsored the bill, perhaps because at the end of the day they know the Internet Freedom Act is just a smokescreen for ISPs to dismantle the last regulations standing between them and a tiered internet. Voters are pretty fed up with a Congress that seems to do nothing but screech about freedom. A February 20 Rasmussen poll found that 62% of voters believe members of Congress are willing to sell their vote in exchange for campaign contributions, just as Republicans are doing now with net neutrality.
Meanwhile, consumers hate ISPs more than any other kind of privately held company (except with the possibility of forced-labor sweatshops or a factory that does nothing but kill puppies for no reason). Cable providers and ISPs routinely poll dead last in customer service rankings, even lower than airlines and insurance companies. Why wouldn’t they? Americans pay some of the highest Internet connection fees and receive some of the slowest service in the developed world. Just check out this eye-opening chart from the Open Technology Instute’s Cost of Connectivity survey, which shows many U.S. cities lagging behind everyplace but Mexico:
Finally, support for net neutrality is near universal among the actual Internet community. It’s been demonstrated by both widespread protest among Internet users and technology experts as well as polling that consistently shows overwhelming opposition across both parties to rules that would allow ISPs to set up a pay-to-play system on the web.
Blackburn’s bill would overturn common-sense rules designed to keep ISPs from remaining the untouchable Ma Bells of the world wide web, exercising their increasing monopoly power to do everything from using data caps and throttling to blackmail consumers into paying for substandard fast lanes to strong-arming content providers. (As the Comcast/Netflix dispute illustrates, ISPs are not above deliberately screwing with business rivals’ traffic to get what they want.) It would be a massive win for gigantic telecommunications companies who want to use their power as middlemen to bully everyone who wants to use the web for anything approaching modern applications of high-speed internet access.
Even small media companies like Banter have an interest in avoiding this situation. Imagine an internet where ISPs freely discriminate (maybe subtly, maybe not) deliberately provide subpar services to customers outside the web of companies willing to pay for premium access. That would even further empower sites like Facebook who are quite willing to pay for unfettered high-speed access to use their gatekeeper status as a way to hit up content providers for loose change. Facebook is already pushing premium posts to the detriment of smaller sites, but it would be next to impossible to bypass their near-monopoly on linking social media users to content if leaving their walled garden means dealing with AOL-style loading bars in the 21st century.
The only people that want to ditch net neutrality are ISPs. It’s no coincidence that the 29 sponsors of the Internet Freedom Act take baths in tubs full of telecom campaign contributions. They’re doing it because ISPs want to make a lot of money from a tiered Internet and have carefully put money in the right hands to make it happen. The most-hated companies in America are bribing the most-hated politicians in America to enact one of the most universally despised ideas in recent memory.