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Hypocrisy Should Not Guide Internet Policymaking

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The Democrats have regularly assailed Republican use of a legislative tool called the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to repeal Obama-era regulations harmful to the U.S. economy, claiming the CRA was unreasonable, unfair and an abuse of power. Curiously, many of these same Democrats have signed on to an effort to this very same tool to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of the regulations establishing the policy known as “net neutrality.”

Repealing the repeal of regulations is not what the CRA was intended for. The fact Democrats are relying on this particular Internet CRA now to keep a promise to tech heads and millennial votes the party needs not just to survive but thrive is the rankest hypocrisy. And they’re all in, using doomsday rhetoric to create public pressure on Congress for an 11th-hour Internet CRA vote – not a debate, just a vote.

Since the FCC repealed Title II in December of 2017 – using regulations dating back to the Great Depression to declare the web a public utility – activists have been warning of an Internet Armageddon. It is only these new, ironclad federal regulations, they say, that keep the Internet open. Without them, free speech will be imperiled, which is also curious considering these regulations only went into effect two years ago, long after the Internet took off. 

In repealing net neutrality, the FCC did not dismantle the Holy Grail of consumer protection. It simply reset its regulatory posture, returning to the light-touch, pro-innovation approach that existed for decades and allowed the Internet to grow into what it is today.

How many times will Congress be allowed to make policy before their constituents demand they educate themselves first? The congressional hearings with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed just how uninformed lawmakers are about how Internet platforms work. They were a prolonged exercise in futility that did little to advance solutions to the any of the major concerns Americans have about digital privacy. 

Many of the same lawmakers who pointlessly grilled Zuckerberg are leading the effort advance the Internet CRA this month, pretending now that it will do something to protect consumers from data miners. In fact, it would do no such thing. Reinstating Title II “common carrier” regulation through the Internet CRA might even create a gap in privacy regulation. With so much at stake for our economy and Americans’ online security, it is simply too costly to get things wrong.

Last year, Sens. Tom Udall and Cory Booker introduced legislation to kill the CRA mechanism altogether. Now both senators are supporting the efforts to restore Title II, with Senator Booker saying, “If somebody wants to show me a better way to keep the Internet open and free, I’m willing to have an open mind about it.”

Fortunately for Senator Booker, a legislative solution for protecting an open Internet is on the table. Sen. John Kennedy and Rep. Marsha Blackburn recently introduced legislation making net neutrality the law of the land, which, if Congress wants to make policy for the FCC would be the proper way to do it. Paid public pressure campaigns stampeding members into voting to repeal the repeal of a regulatory structure is a bad way to set policy. 

Moving forward with a partisan-driven Internet CRA that simply reinstates the status quo ante does not work for consumers or Internet service providers. When Title II was imposed on Internet providers in 2015, billions of dollars were lost for projects that would have expanded broadband services to the 14 million rural residents who lack quality access. 

Americans deserve better than a legislative approach that both parties agree is a poor way to govern, particularly for an issue as critical as the future of the Internet. Instead of taking the politically convenient route, Congress must come together and do what is best for all Americans: ensuring a free, open and accessible Internet for generations to come. Until they can they should leave current law and policy well enough alone. 

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