The times they are a’ changing, my friends. Way back about… two months ago, Ted Cruz had this to say about net neutrality.
“What happens when government starts regulating a service as a public utility? It calcifies everything. It freezes it in place,”
Mitch McConnell in the same week:
“The Commission would be wise to reject it,”
John Boehner, two days earlier:
An open, vibrant Internet is essential to a growing economy, and net neutrality is a textbook example of the kind of Washington regulations that destroy innovation and entrepreneurship.
Ah, good times, my friends. Good times. But that was so 2014 and a full election behind us. The new hotness has a slightly different tone.
Republicans in Congress are doing a 180 on net neutrality as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to issue new rules within weeks.
“Times have changed,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the House telecom subcommittee, said when asked about the evolving GOP position on net neutrality. “The administration has latched onto this [utility-style regulation], and the FCC’s independence is nominal at best.”
The language Republicans are using to talk about their proposed bill illustrates just how far the GOP has come on the issue. The principles embrace and even bolster ideas that were once controversial in Republican circles, like banning “paid prioritization,” the practice of charging content companies for an online fast lane.
Thune’s principles also include bans on blocking or throttling Web traffic and extending net neutrality protections to wireless networks, an idea put forward by Obama and congressional Democrats.
We can’t know for sure until we see the final legislation, but the differences between that and the planned regulations being floated by Obama and the FCC are rather difficult to identify. (To put it charitably.)
It would be wonderful if this could be broken down in a nuanced way and see what, if anything could be profitably enacted rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but that’s not generally how things work in Washington. I’ve noted from the beginning of this discussion that there are actually some laudable goals included in what net neutrality proponents are trying to do. Most of these beneficent features are seen from the perspective of the end user. It would be disappointing indeed if your favorite online content streaming service suddenly began bogging down to a frustrating, spinning circle icon on your screen because one of Comcast’s partners was offering a competing service which was given the “fast lane” for delivery. Imagine if some new outlet which reported on and promoted subjects which the MSM disapproves of (such as Guns and Curves, for example) began timing out on you because the proprietors couldn’t cough up the extra pound of flesh their provider demands for faster delivery. (Making a web start-up financially viable is a razor thin proposition in the best of times.)
But that doesn’t in any way eliminate the complaints which conservatives have been raising from the beginning. We might like (at least in theory) to see the FCC prevent some of the above scenarios, assuming they could come to pass. (Would they?) But we have also seen far too many cases where the federal government has knocked on the door, announcing that they are “here to help” and managed to completely wreck whatever tent they managed to push their snoot under.
And none of this addresses the understandable backlash which will be coming from the conservative base over such a complete reversal of position as soon as the election was safely behind the GOP leadership.
Look… I understand the theory here. Better to have Congress pass something which they get to craft themselves than to let yet another White House proxy like the FCC issue de facto laws under the banner of federal regulations. But if the resulting legislation is indistinguishable from the proposed regulations it’s a hollow victory at best. The GOP needs to move very carefully on this one.