The consumer protections widely known as “net neutrality” are hugely popular among Republicans throughout the U.S., if only because cable and internet providers are American’s choice example of rapacious corporate gluttony. In Washington, however, things are radically different. Insofar as net neutrality is concerned, the relationship between GOP lawmakers and legendarily despised big cable companies—it’s like watching Peter and Shadow roll around in the leaves at the end of Homeward Bound.
The gulf between the GOP’s agenda and what their constituents actually want when it comes to this specific policy is inconceivably vast. Even so, there is no prominent right-leaning movement to “save the internet.” Even if there were, Republicans are so demonstrably bad at preventing Big Business from usurping their grassroots movements that John Legere would probably fund it by the end of the week.
Due to this, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is currently stifling efforts to vote on a net neutrality bill that’s already passed the House. What he knows, and what everyone else knows, is that on Election Day, net neutrality will be the furthest thing from Republican voters’ minds. And given this, he can completely ignore their will.
On Tuesday, Senator Edward Markey and other Democrats did their best to draw attention to this disconnect in speeches on the Senate floor. “The Save the Internet Act does exactly what the American people want,” said Markey. “It restores the rules that ensure families aren’t subject to high prices, slower internet speeds, and even blocked websites because the big broadband providers want to pump up their products.”
“Eighty-six percent of Americans do not approve of the Federal Communication Commission action to repeal net neutrality rules, including 82 percent of Republicans,” he added, citing a survey this year conducted at the University of Maryland. (Notably, the pollsters in this case even provided the Republican voters surveyed with the FCC’s own reasoning for repealing the rules.)
“Net neutrality—the free and open internet—says that once you have access to the internet, you get to go where you want, when you want, and how you want,” said Senator Ron Wyden. “That’s the basic principle Senator Markey and I have been fighting for for more than a decade.”
Firing back at critics who’ve characterized the Democrats’ concerns as Chicken Little theatrics, Wyden warned that the impact of the repeal would reveal itself slowly. Big Cable isn’t likely to roll out a slew of anti-competitive and predatory practices all at once, he argued. (This is particularly true because an appellate court is still considering legal arguments against the FCC’s net neutrality repeal, some of which focus on potential future harms.)
“Death by a thousand inconveniences,” he called it.
Offering one example, Wyden pointed C-SPAN viewers at home to the so-called “unlimited” data plans offered by most major ISPs. “To understand the complicated limits on internet access in these newfangled plans, you practically need a graduate degree in big-cable legal jargon,” he said. “Consumers might be forced to swallow hard and accept it, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.”
He also drew attention to the “reshaping” of the internet and entertainment industries through “mega-mergers.”
“Some of those new mega-corporations also own the content they distribute, and they want it to reach as many consumers as possible. That means the internet is fracturing,” he said, warning that soon customers of one ISP could be forced to pay additional fees to access streaming services owned by their competitors.
Attention was also drawn to the failed promises of the FCC’s chairman, Ajit Pai, who, in replacing net neutrality with his “light-touch” regulations, promised “better, cheaper internet,” as well as new jobs spurred on by a supposed explosion of broadband investment. None of those promises have materialized. Employees at companies like Verizon have been affected by wave after wave of layoffs this year. AT&T, meanwhile, recently announced a price hike for subscribers of its digital service DirectTV.
“[Pai] said there would be new innovation without regulations in place. That hasn’t happened. He said the level of private investment in telecom infrastructure would boom. Still waiting on that, too,” said Wyden, who also took aim at Pai’s claim that ISPs were capable of maintaining net neutrality voluntarily, without the shadow of government looming over them.
If it’s true that companies like AT&T and Comcast really support net neutrality, he wondered aloud, “why did he need to get rid of it?”