On Wednesday, thousands of websites participated in the Net Neutrality Day of Action, protesting the Federal Communications Commission's planned reversal of Obama-era Open Internet rules.
Considering how obscure most tech policy is, it's impressive that interest groups have successfully managed to rouse public attention to this extremely complex policy. Nevertheless, they have deceptively framed the issue as a battle against money-grubbing Internet service providers trying to screw the little guy.
The Obama-era rules were hastily written and poorly crafted. Supporters and opponents of net neutrality alike should take no pride in this bureaucratic mess.
BattleForTheNet.com is a prime example of how the debate over net neutrality has been spun. The popular petition frames the battles as one between "Team Internet" and "Team Cable." Without net neutrality, the petition claims that Team Cable would have "the power to slow sites down," allowing them to "bully any site into paying millions to escape the ‘slow lane.'"
The funny thing is that ISPs already have this power under the Obama-era Open Internet rules. Brent Skroup of the Mercatus Center explains at The Technology Liberation Front:
The 2016 court decision upholding the rules was a Pyrrhic victory for the net neutrality movement. In short, the decision revealed that the 2015 Open Internet Order provides no meaningful net neutrality protections — it allows ISPs to block and throttle content. As the judges who upheld the Order said, "The Order … specifies that an ISP remains ‘free to offer ‘edited' services' without becoming subject to the rule's requirements."
In short, the Obama-era FCC's so-called net neutrality rules do not actually enforce net neutrality. This should come as no surprise considering that the 2015 rules subjugated ISPs to the same "common carrier" rules as telephone companies, originally enacted in Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
You read that right: the Internet today is largely regulated by rules written during the Great Depression. Clearly, it's time for an update.
Contrary to the scaremongers who pushed the Net Neutrality Day of Action, there is no urgent threat to free state of the Internet. Repealing the Obama-era Open Internet rules would take the web back to the same regulatory state as 2015 — not exactly a wild west for the net. In fact, every major ISP at the time had de facto net neutrality without being coerced by government.
After all, how many ISPs have pay-per-click plans?
Supporters and opponents of net neutrality should agree that the Obama-era rules are a shoddy way to regulate the internet. If the public truly demands an open Internet, Congress should roll up their sleeves and update the ancient rules currently governing the net.
Casey Given (@CaseyJGiven) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is the executive director of Young Voices.
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