In the seemingly never-ending debate over net neutrality, there are now glimmers of real hope. First, some Republicans have cast aside their previous opposition to a statutory fix and have put forward bills that track the broad outlines of open internet protections (no blocking or throttling of legitimate online content, no unfair discrimination based on content). In one case, a Republican effort is actually based on a 2010 Democratic House bill on net neutrality.
Even more promising, several House Democrats have tired of the quixotic posturing on the poison pill issue in which some of their counterparts (and a number of outside activists) have been engaging. Dozens are now backing a bipartisan working group to create consensus net neutrality legislation and want the support of their leaders.
If not yet bipartisan in the House, the push is already bi-coastal, led by U.S. Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., and Scott Peters, a California Democrat. If there is to be a bill on net neutrality that can pass both chambers, it will involve compromise – between the parties and between the House and Senate. To the surprise of no one, a Senate vote on the House bill to restore intrusive, monopoly-style Title II net neutrality regulation from 2015 was blocked last week.
Gottheimer and others recently sent a letter to House leadership on the issue. It states that “various models for legislation could achieve our goals of providing strong, enforceable net neutrality protections for consumers.”
That’s exactly right. Once one accepts that the core principles of net neutrality are the heart of the matter – as these Democrats and many Republicans have – then the activists’ push that all this has to be included in Title II of the Telecommunications Act makes little sense. Why impose monopoly-style regulations on the vibrant broadband internet? After all, even the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 rules began by forbearing some of those very regulations – so why insist on Title II?
In short, the Democrats now calling for compromise realize that the Democrats of 2010, in the FCC and Congress, were closer to the mark than many Democrats of 2019, who have been listening to the voices of activists calling for Title II “Common Carrier” regulation. This contingent is not only forgetting that the 20 years of bipartisan consensus on internet regulation began under the Clinton Administration, it’s ignoring the serious impact that Title II regulation would have on investment in broadband.
This point is important. As the nation begins a transition to 5G networks, which will offer exponentially faster speeds and enable new innovations such as truly autonomous vehicles, we need more investment, not less, in broadband. And this means that government should, at the very least, not impose investment barriers such as monopoly-era regulation. Otherwise, we risk falling behind other countries in 5G deployments and – something that should be of great concern to congressional members in both parties – widening the digital divide here at home. Progress toward closing the digital divide has been made with the help of billions of dollars, but activists’ push for an unworkable net neutrality framework that stands no chance of enactment in any event does not help foster a positive investment climate for broadband.
It takes hard work to pass laws, particularly when the subject is as long- and hard-fought as it has been with net neutrality. It’s good that some Democrats are now seeking to move their party towards the sensible center, joining those Republicans who have been doing the same. That’s how the legislative process is supposed to work.
It’s entirely possible for Congress to enact a net neutrality bill this year, but there is little time to spare. Posturing should give way to negotiating. That’s the only way that both sides of the aisle and both sides of Capitol Hill will be able to point to a real accomplishment: putting core open internet provisions in statute law. It appears Representative Gottheimer and other members of Congress are beginning to see the light.
Originally published at The Star-Ledger