Why Do Republicans Oppose Net Neutrality?


By Joe Campbell
October 23rd, 2009


 
The motto of the Republican Party these days seems to be this: If you’re not getting traction opposing something the Obama administration is doing, then make shit up and oppose that.

This was the approach to health care reform and it’s the approach to cap-and-trade legislation (which had been the Republican, market-based approach to dealing with climate change until Democrats came on board.)  The Republican and right wing opposition to net neutrality provides yet another example of this. It’s not that there are no legitimate grounds to oppose these and other Obama administration positions – libertarians and paleoconservatives have found many – it’s just that the Republicans and right wing media figures opposing it choose instead to pretend that what is being proposed is some fantastical evil scheme.

In this case, they are pretending that net neutrality is (a) a radical change rather than a preservation of the internet as it is; and (b) would create an “internet czar” who would “police content” and force conservative bloggers and website owners to put liberal content on their websites. This is not even close to being true!

Network neutrality is an essentially conservative principle – meaning that it seeks to preserve a core principle of the status quo. (SavetheInternet – a pro-net neutrality group – has a good FAQ page if you’re unfamiliar.) Internet service providers (the companies you pay to be able to get onto the internet) in seeking to find new ways to make even more money want to not only charge you to get onto the internet, but to charge companies with websites to be able to reach you (or to be able to reach you quicker.) Doing this would radically undermine the internet as it is and could easily lead to the entrenchment of any big company willing to pay to best its opponents rather than the company with the best idea.

Net neutrality was a fairly uncontroversial idea as late as 2006 – attracting broad bipartisan support in Congress. A libertarian/conservative group – the Internet Freedom Coalition – did oppose it – on the theory that the internet already was regulated enough and no further laws were needed; but the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee still passed the 2006 net neutrality bill 20 votes to 13.

Last summer though, things began to change. I wrote a piece about how money had begun to flow into John McCain’s campaign as well as other Republicans as the cable companies and other opponents of net neutrality began to try to gin up some opposition. McCain himself seemed confused though his campaign had issued a definitive statement saying he was against it (coincidentally right around the time he started to get money from net neutrality opponents.) McCain said in an interview to Brian Lehrer after this statement that he went “back and forth on the issue.” In the interview, he seemed genuinely confused as to what the issue even was.

But as the money began to go to various Republican candidates, and as progressives and liberals began to defend net neutrality, the issue became polarized. Republican and former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, claimed that net neutrality could lead to the regulation of political speech on the internet, calling it a ‘Fairness Doctrine for the Internet,’ which is clearly a Conservative Strawman, as anyone who bothered to do any research about what the meaning of net neutrality was would quickly find out. Even the Internet Freedom Coalition declines to make this exaggerated claim.

Now, the issue has broken into the news again as the FCC is considering writing rules officially adopting net neutrality rather than invoking it on a case by case basis as it has in the past. (Unfortunately, I’m a bit unclear on the distinction being made between guidelines relied upon by the FCC and rules enforced by the FCC.)

And of course, Republicans, having been duly bought and paid for, are now opponents of net neutrality – as rather than conservatively seeking to preserve the structure of the internet, they seek to allow big corporations the freedom to undermine it in any way they find profitable. John McCain who was so confused by this issue just last year now is a leading opponent, introducing a bill this week to prohibit the FCC from protecting net neutrality or any of the other basic principles underlying the internet as it exists now. Marsha Blackburn, a House Republican, has officially taken on the role of the Sarah Palin for the net neutrality debate, as she pushes the limits of public dialogue by demagoguing net neutrality and regurgitating the wacky talking point that net neutrality is the “Fairness Doctrine for the Internet.”

Perhaps in this storyline you can see what it takes to unhinge the public debate from reality: an interest group with money to burn to concentrate the benefits of government policy and disperse the costs.

[Image by -eko- licensed under Creative Commons.]

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7 Responses to “Why Do Republicans Oppose Net Neutrality?”

  1. Less Government Says:

    Why let the federal government regulate something that doesn’t require regulating? Why are you for such ridiculous federal government control? Your brain dead to think more government is necessary. Get a clue.

  2. Joe Campbell Says:

    @Less Government:

    You could make the argument that the government isn’t needed to protect the public good that is the structure of the internet – because the ISPs determining access to it wouldn’t screw around with that (though they already are) or that they should be allowed to screw around with it.

    But instead you repeat the talking point about “ridiculous federal government control”? Make an argument for why the internet isn’t a public good – or why the ISPs wouldn’t try to screw it up for better quarterly earnings results.

  3. Carter Cole Says:

    Are you saying that Obama wasn’t “bought and paid for” im sad to hear republicans are against this… i know regulation is bad but the telecom peeps are doing deep packet inspection and traffic throttling which is totally bs… all data should be treated equal.. if its P2P downloads or traffic to the NYTimes.com

  4. Jeff Says:

    I am a conservative and a registered Republican and am really troubled that Republicans are fighting against Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is something that Republicans should be getting behind. Net Neutrality will keep the Internet open and accessible. Corporations do throttle your data usage based on what type of data you are pushing across their lines. And there is nothing illegal about it, currently. Corporations will limit or block your access to content that competes with something they offer across their lines. Net Neutrality says that data is data. If you pay for x amount of data per month then you can use that for whatever you would like. Be that VOIP, video, or web surfing because data is data. Net Neutrality is not a government take over of the Internet, it is a plan to keep the Internet an open platform for everyone, not a closed access utility regulated by corporations who want to force particular services or content onto you.

    How would you like it if the phone company said you can’t call a certain person even though you are paying for phone service? Or what if the Cable company you buy internet from were to block access to hulu.com or Skype service since they also sell their own VOIP phone service? Net Neutrality protects the consumers from this. Net Neutrality forces corporations that sell you internet access to give you exactly that, access to the internet without placing blocks in your path. Data is data. A packet of data that is video or voice, or text is all the same, and Net Neutrality would force companies that sell you access to treat all packets of data the same.

    Republicans like Freedom, and should be for Net Neutrality.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    @Sodium Ascorbate:

    Who are you trying to pull? Cable and telco companies are the biggest monopoly plaguing this country with poor service with increasing record prices.

    You want capitalist greed and corruption then vote republican, you want net neutrality and freedom online to make the government to tell this monopoly that you will not control and squeeze and dime us? Then vote democrat

  6. Tired Donkey Says:

    Great piece, and I couldn’t agree more. Thanks. I linked to you from my blog at http://www.tireddonkey.com where I just posted an update on the net neutrality debate.

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