Trump Targets Net Neutrality

By Andrew Witzel

On the heels of the projected “win” by the Trump administration regarding the internet privacy bill, they announced that net neutrality is their next target.  The move would deregulate broadband internet service providers (ISP) rules that are intended to safeguard free expression and ensure there isn’t a “pay-to-play fast lane” for companies that can afford it.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the net neutrality rules in 2015 after strong opposition from the American public and effective lobbying campaigns run by companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix.  Those companies have deep pockets and can afford to pay for “fast lanes” but used the campaign of opposition to avoid the additional expenses.

Jeffrey Eisenbach, an economist and visiting scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and formerly an adviser to the Trump transition team had this to say:

Regulations result in the allocation of wealth by the government.  They are often an opportunity for one group of firms to grab an advantage over another group.

It really is about money and has very little to do with protecting the Internet or safeguarding free expression.  Sean Spicer said President Trump had “pledged to reverse this overreach” by the Obama administration and said the restrictions on one company and not on others was about government “picking winners and losers.”  Telecommunications and cable television companies, who operate as more than simple ISPs, have traditionally fought being classified as common-carrier utility services.  The classification opens the door to interference that would reduce incentives to invest and result in higher prices to consumers.  The United States already pays the highest average cost for Internet access than any other country in the world with similar infrastructure.

A quick look at 2016 revenues shows none of these companies are “poor”:

  • Verizon, $32.3 billion
  • Comcast, $19.2 billion
  • Time Warner, $29.3 billion
  • AT&T, $13 billion
  • Charter, $1.1 billion

Thankfully the Congressional Review Act is not applicable to the net neutrality rules as it is outside the allowed timetable for such a review.  The issue of net neutrality is going to be a much bigger challenge politically than most believe.  AS the FCC was weighing the rules in 2014 and 2015, they received more than one million public comments and the vast majority of them endorsed strict nondiscrimination rules that supported a preservation of a democratic and open Internet.  The president of Public Knowledge, Gene Kimmelman said:

Net neutrality could be a volatile and explosive issue.  I’m not sure the Trump administration appreciates that it addresses nondiscrimination for all kinds of speech, as much for Breitbart and Newsmax as it is for MSNBC and CNN.

The political whiplash on the GOP if net neutrality regulations are reversed would only add to the growing distrust and anger the American people are starting to show.  The White House most likely won’t know what hit them.

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