Defend Net Neutrality at FCC Net Neutrality demonstration 12th street SW Washington, D.C. / user: Slowking4 / GFDL 1.2
Yesterday the Federal Communication Commission voted 3-2 to repeal the net neutrality regulations. This vote overturned an Obama administration effort to classified internet providers as a telecommunications service under Title II.
The fight over net neutrality is incredibly divisive with supports arguing that the regulation is necessary to protect equal access to content and opponents saying that it is an unnecessary burden that stifles innovation.
Mirroring the rest of the country, Arizona’s congressional delegation were equally divided over this issue.
Party line divide
Before the FCC’s vote, more than 100 Republican members of the House of Representatives sent Chairman Ajit Pai a letter of support.
Representatives Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, and Martha McSally each signed the letter which called the end of net neutrality “a major step forward in the effort to clear the way for the substantial investment necessary to advance our Internet architecture for the next generation and close the digital divide.”
After the vote on Thursday, Congressmen Andy Biggs and Raul Grijalva took to Twitter, predictably with sharply differing opinions on the matter.
On his official Twitter account, Congressman Biggs posted a video created by Chairman Ajit Pai and along with the following statement:
No – the sky is not falling with the end of #NetNeutrality.
On the contrary, under Chairman @AjitPaiFCC, the FCC has rightly stopped federal regulators from controlling our internet. Net Neutrality was one of the many examples of executive overregulation.
Biggs lauded FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the two other commissioners who voted against net neutrality for their decision. In a statement, Biggs called net neutrality “one of the many examples of executive overregulation” and said the FCC’s decision meant that “internet freedom has been restored.”
Congressman Biggs went on to call for Congressional action to prevent net neutrality regulation in the future:
The action by the FCC does not absolve Congress’ responsibility to codify these free-market protections into law. I am pleased to support Senator Mike Lee’s “Restoring Internet Freedom Act,” a one-paragraph bill that prevents the FCC from this type of overreach in the future. I will continue to work with my colleagues to pass this legislation on the House side.
Although his office has not yet released a statement related to the FCC’s vote, Senator John McCain previously expressed his contempt for net neutrality regulation and Title II classification of internet providers.
In February 2015 when the FCC under the Obama administration imposed net neutrality regulation in its current form, McCain released a statement saying that the decision “upends the longstanding hands-off approach to the Internet that has been taken since its advent – one that has encouraged innovation and allowed the Internet to become what it is today.”
Unsurprisingly, Congressman Grijalva viewed the issue differently than his Republican colleagues. On Twitter Grijalva was extremely critical of the FCC’s vote and the GOP:
Congrats @AjitPaiFCC, you just gave away the keys to our open and free internet. Yet another instance of the GOP prioritizing corporate profits over all else. #NetNeutrality
As co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congressman Grijalva along with Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI) released a statement in November when the FCC began the process of repealing net neutrality.
In their statement, Grijalva and Pocan attacked Chairman Pai for siding with “Big Telecom at the expense of competition, innovation, and the fundamental right to a free and open internet.”
“If he is successful, Chairman Pai will hand the keys to our open internet to major corporations to charge more for a tiered system where wealthy and powerful websites can pay to have their content delivered faster to consumers,” the statement continued. “This leaves smaller, independent websites with slower load times and consumers with obstructed access to the internet – a particularly harmful decision for communities of color, students, and online activists. This is an assault on the freedom of speech and therefore our democracy.”
Same goal, different approaches
The debate over net neutrality fits within the broader discussion of the role of regulation in the marketplace.
Proponents of net neutrality argue that the regulation is necessary to ensure that there is a level playing field for websites and content providers. By prohibiting internet providers from artificially throttling or boosting particular websites or content, consumers are not pushed away from or towards a specific website or content.
An often used example is the media market. Under net neutrality, an internet provider can’t favor Netflix over Hulu, for instance. This is particularly relevant in relation to the massive media companies that are both internet providers and content creators or content gatekeepers, like Comcast and Alphabet.
Because these companies are so large and have so much power, proponents say, the federal government needs to use its regulatory authority to prevent internet providers from distorting the market by throttling or boosting websites for their benefit at the detriment of the public.
Opponents of net neutrality believe that the regulatory burden placed by on internet providers by the Obama administration in 2015 is stifling investment and innovation in the industry. They think that any issues that may arise will be solved by a free marketplace where consumers are able to choose which service is best for them.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, argued in 2014 when the Obama administration was in the process of reclassifying internet providers under Title II. In their report, they point to previous examples when competition in the marketplace forced companies to back away from behaviors that violated net neutrality.
One issue with the opponents arguments in favor of the Federal Communication Commission’s recent decision is that it goes beyond net neutrality. The FCC chose not just to end net neutrality but to remove the Title II regulatory classification altogether. This decision not only rolls back net neutrality protections, but also the ability to quickly put them back in place if the need arises.
In essence, Chairman Ajit Pai and the two other commissioners who voted with him on Thursday voted not just to roll back this piece of regulation, but the whole regulatory framework around it as well.
Back to court
So far, 20 states filed a lawsuit against the FCC to overturn its decision. The Attorneys General argue that the FCC’s decision is unjust because it prevents their state governments from enforcing net neutrality within their jurisdictions.
“We don’t think that the FCC has the power to stop states from enacting our own rules. In fact, the FCC has lost that argument in court before, so we’re going to move forward,” said Scott Wiener, a Democratic state Senator from California.
Arizona has not joined the other states’ lawsuit. There is no indication from Attorney General Mark Brnovich that his office intends to do so in the future.