A congressional effort pushed by big online companies to promote net neutrality through an obscure legislative tool ignores a simple truth: It will not permanently protect a free and open internet and will continue to leave millions on the wrong side of the digital divide. Rather than spending time on a legislative Hail Mary with virtually no chance of becoming reality, Congress should come together to develop a comprehensive bill that levels the internet playing field for all Americans.
Following the December vote by the Federal Communications Commission to repeal Title II regulations on the internet, a group of congressional lawmakers proposed repealing the order by using a device called the Congressional Review Act. That law gives Congress the power to nullify rules enacted by federal agencies via a simple majority — making it immune to filibusters and congressional debate.
Prior to 2017, the Congressional Review Act had only successfully been invoked once. And while it has recently been used to repeal a number of Obama-era rules, much to the dismay of progressives, it has never been used to establish substantive policy that affects virtually every American.
But while lawmakers and tech giants have claimed that using a Congressional Review Act would restore net neutrality, it would actually do nothing to strengthen net neutrality rules and expand opportunities for all Americans to participate in a truly open internet. Even in the unlikely event that the effort passed Congress, the Trump administration would likely respond by issuing a new set of rules, thus prolonging today’s ping-pong regulatory cycle and leaving an uncertain future for consumers and broadband providers.
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Worse, the Congressional Review Act would simply reinstate antiquated Title II rules that have not created the open internet’s engine of opportunity with a level playing field that net neutrality proponents have long envisioned. Today’s internet is dominated by huge multinational content providers, just five of which gobble up 80 percent of the revenue produced on the net – and the trend is worsening.
Examples of low-income and diverse entrepreneurs competing head to head with these companies and winning are far too rare. The fact is that today’s leading internet edge providers such as Google and Facebook are some of the least diverse companies, and they are as dominant in their industry as some of the titanic monopolies of the Industrial Age. So why the rush to reinstate regulations that largely favor their business model over everyone else’s?
The internet has changed the way businesses operate, created jobs and opened doors to new economic opportunities. But the internet ecosystem has become dominated by some of the wealthiest companies, while diverse communities have been largely shut out. We need to ensure more Americans can be active participants in this growing internet economy, which is why a fast-track legislative gimmick that sidesteps congressional hearings is the wrong way to establish such significant and far-reaching policy.
Unlike the Congressional Review Act, a comprehensive legislative approach can make net neutrality the law of the land while ensuring a genuine level playing field that benefits all Americans and gives all of our diverse communities a chance to participate.
Despite the over-the-top rhetoric from some who have claimed repealing Title II would destroy the internet, nothing has really changed for consumers. However, the internet needs to be changed in a way that will restore its promise as an open and diverse platform that brings opportunity to all.
Congress has an opportunity right now to forge a strong net neutrality bill that works for everyone. But to accomplish that goal, all those who support net neutrality need to set aside the caustic rhetoric and help forge a permanent legislative path toward a free and open internet that benefits all Americans.