Net Neutrality CRA Resolution to be Debated

With the agreement of Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) to support a Congressional Review Act resolution cancelling the FCC’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” order, we’re assured that the Senate will, once again, debate Internet Service Provider regulation. This is a symbolic action that will have no effect on the Internet.

The CRA is a waste of time, even for a minority party that lacks the power to enact legislation. The debate will simply recycle the same themes – many of them wildly overblown – that we’ve heard in Congressional debates on Internet regulation since 2005. The apparent intent is to drag out the issue so Democrats can position themselves as champions of net neutrality in this year’s elections.

Net neutrality is little more than a diversion.  Concerns over ISP blocking and throttling of websites are essentially conjectural, as the historical record fails to provide substantial evidence of such practices in the United States.

The third component of net neutrality – the desire to ban the non-existent practice of ISPs providing “fast lanes” to some services but not to others – ignores the fact that web sites use less than 20% of the capacity ISPs make available to them today.

The best way for supporters of the CRA to reassure frightened voters that the Internet will remain stable is for them to join their colleagues on the other side of the aisle in creating a specific grant of authority to our federal regulatory agencies. Such an action can provide explicit authority to preserve fair and reasonable behavior on the part of ISPs without impairing network engineering.

The obsession with net neutrality has pushed larger and more important Internet issues off the table. We need faster and more pervasive broadband networks in rural areas; we need faster and cheaper wireless networks everywhere; and we need for more people to use the Internet.

We also need at least a modicum of control over the increasingly concentrated monopolies – euphemistically termed “edge services” by the Wheeler FCC – that determine the fate of Internet content and user privacy. Ending the net neutrality debate by passing a bill laying out FCC and FTC authority in clear and certain terms will free policy makers to address these important questions.

As soon as supporters of the CRA have had their turns at extolling the virtues of the Title II telecommunications carrier regulations from the Senate floor, I hope they will pivot to their legislative duty to enact serious legislation.

Net neutrality has a lot of support in the Senate, even if the House remains skeptical of over-regulation. It would be a mistake for Democrats to squander this opportunity to enact a meaningful law just because they want a campaign issue.