Senator Thune Begins Pushing A 'Net Neutrality' Bill That's Likely To Kill Net Neutrality

from the with-friends-like-these dept

While Trump, the GOP and new FCC boss Ajit Pai really want to kill net neutrality protections for AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, it likely won't happen at the FCC. As it stands, rolling back the rules via the same FCC process that birthed them would require showing the courts that things have dramatically changed since the FCC's major court win last year. Such a process would also involve another lengthy public comment period, during which the record-setting four million public comments filed during the rule creation could appear diminutive.

So if you're an ISP lobbyist looking to kill net neutrality rules, how do you accomplish this without causing a massive public shitstorm? Why you table ghost write (corrected, thanks commenters) a bill that pretends to save and protect net neutrality, while wording it to do the exact opposite, of course!

It's widely believed that the GOP intends to table a net neutrality bill sometime this year, either as a standalone bill or part of a Communications Act rewrite (with a heavy emphasis on killing the FCC's consumer-protection authority). The man likely to lead that effort is Senator John Thune, who last week took to the op-ed pages of Ars Technica to begin making his public case for such a proposal. Thune begins his sales pitch with, unfortunately, a lie:

"I am quite confident that the online experience for the overwhelming majority of users has not really changed for better or worse because of the new regulations. The Internet’s future, however, is uncertain because of ideological bureaucrats at the FCC who adopted a misguided regulatory approach that has chilled investment and offers no protections against excessive bureaucratic interference in the years ahead.

...These regulations are already having a negative impact on Internet infrastructure. While not a problem in places like Silicon Valley or New York City, 34 million Americans today lack access to broadband services at home, and there is evidence that the FCC’s onerous regulations have chilled the capital investments that are needed to deploy broadband throughout the country."

As we just got done saying, the claim that net neutrality "chilled investment" simply isn't true, no matter how many times large ISPs (and the politicians that love them) claim otherwise. Data showing growing CAPEX and earnings are all public, so it's not really particularly debatable (The Consumerist just got done doing a fantastic job once again debunking this canard). After starting with a repeatedly-debunked lie, Thune proceeds to his real goal, selling people on the idea of a new net neutrality law built by Congress:

"While the FCC’s 2015 rules may soon be consigned to the dustbin of history, the last few months have shown us all that political winds can and often do shift suddenly. The only way to truly provide certainty for open Internet protections is for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation. Rather than heavy-handed and open-ended regulations that stifle the Internet, we need a statute offering clear and enduring rules that balance innovation and investment for all parts of the Internet ecosystem."

So yes... in a perfect world, Congress would simply pass a net neutrality bill and enshrine the concept into law, avoiding the partisan pattycake that plagues the FCC with every administrative shift. But this world not being ideal, and one where companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have incredible power over lawmakers, the chance of Congress passing useful net neutrality protections is virtually non-existent. Thune, as a major recipient of telecom industry cash, of course knows this. But Thune dismisses this reality to insist he's nobly prepared to spearhead a legislative effort to save neutrality once and for all:

"The certainty of bipartisan law transcends administrations. Over the past few months, many of my Democrat colleagues have grown to appreciate this more. Regardless of what happens at the FCC with the 2015 rules, I again stand ready to work on legislation protecting the open Internet that sets forth clear digital rules of the road for both the Internet community and government regulators."

You shouldn't buy it. Thune previously tried to kill the FCC's tougher rules with a similar proposal last year -- one that professed to "enshrine net neutrality into law," but which was so intentionally saddled with loopholes as to be useless. In fact such proposals are worse than useless in that they pre-empt the existing, more effective rules, cover only some net neutrality violations (outright blocking of entire websites, something no ISP intends or wants to do anyway), while ignoring the myriad of fronts where the real neutrality fights are happening now (zero rating, interconnection, usage caps and overage fees).

The plan is to introduce a new net neutrality law that kills net neutrality while professing to save it. When lawmakers point out that the bill does more harm than good, they'll likely be derided for refusing to "compromise." Granted with the ACA and other Congressional kerfuffles currently taking priority, this bill may take some time before large ISP lobbyists and lawmakers can finally table such legislation. But those of you that care about net neutrality need to understand one thing: net neutrality's death will come disguised as a 2017 bill pretending to save it. Likely with Thune leading the parade.

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Filed Under: ajit pai, congress, fcc, john thune, net neutrality

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  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 7 Mar 2017 @ 7:39am


    There's been a lot of FUD on this issue. Plenty of times, I've had to correct people on the nature of it - that it's about protecting the way the internet has always worked, not about introducing a new way of working. People have been fooled into thinking that the rules are being put into place to change the internet, not to protect it from fundamental change. So, they oppose the protections they want while defending the changes they oppose.

    There's the problem - it's been bad enough to confuse people on tech forums who can debate openly. Now, imagine how skewed the view of a congressman is going to be when all he has is the views of industry lobbyists.

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