Does Net Neutrality Have Any Chance With the Coming Congress?

That is something lots of my friends are asking themselves right now, because after seeing the opening statements of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, one might wonder if they have undergone civility removal treatments recently.

With the unwillingness to display any sort of “hands across the aisle” attitude that used to be characteristic of the Congress, it looks as though politics is going to enter into much more of our life than ever before. Simple things, things that should be natural, and easily accomplished, look as though debate and cajoling to a central position, will be required from either side to get done.

But net neutrality would affect everyone, Republican, Democrat, and Other. So shouldn’t the idea, which  seems as regular as breathing to Democrats, occur to Republicans, too? The analysis from ComputerWorld makes some interesting deductions -

Republican gains in Congress with Tuesday’s elections put a controversial and largely partisan debate over proposed network neutrality rules back in the hands of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, but some backers of new rules have their doubts about the agency’s willingness to move forward.

The Republican takeover of the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives — with many new lawmakers fiercely antiregulation — likely signals an end to serious attempts to pass net neutrality legislation prohibiting broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic. But the FCC, where Democrats still hold a 3-2 majority, has an open proceeding soliciting comments on whether to adopt net neutrality rules.

To my way of thinking, this should be a s simple as falling off a log. Unless you are the holder of stock in one of the big backbone providers, such as AT&T or Verizon, you should be for net neutrality without question. Since we can use a bit of intelligent guessing to say that a great majority of the nation does not own stock in those firms, plus the fact that some of those people should still be able to think clearly, knowing that money can be made in other ways by those companies, the inference should be that if put to direct popular vote, net neutrality would pass by a margin that would make it look like the LBJ defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964!

But what will the FCC do? With Democratic majorities in Congress and the FCC over the past two years — and support from President Barack Obama — the FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in October 2009, but has not moved past the comment-seeking stage.

An FCC spokeswoman declined to comment on where the agency was headed with net neutrality following Tuesday’s elections.

I must say that, as someone more interested in, and involved with, the FCC than most anyone I know, the entity has rarely been on the right side of any decision, from my perspective.

If ever there were a portion of the government needing total overhaul, this is it. It has not matter what party held sway in Congress or what affiliation the President has been over my entire lifetime, the decisions have been uniformly bad.

The fact that no one has spoken may be seen to be cautious and prudent, but I would think that the same things that made net neutrality a great idea on Monday night would not have changed on Tuesday morning.

“The ball is clearly in the FCC’s court now,” said Art Brodsky, communications director for Public Knowledge, a digital rights group supporting new net neutrality rules. “[FCC Chairman Julius] Genachowski won’t get any help from Congress. He has to do it, or it won’t get done. Will he? I’m not optimistic based on past performance, but I hold out some small hope.”

This is not a slam because I don’t Like Genachowski. I don’t know the man. But it seems that as someone put there by Barack Obama, he should be following (or already followed, since the FCC decision does not take a grant from Congress or any other entity) the direction of the President. The decisions and things to put in place to get things going in the right direction don’t require anything else to be in place first.

The new Republican majority in the House will likely hit the FCC with a series of hearings and information requests, predicted Brodsky and Joel Kelsey, political advisor to Free Press, a media reform group that supports new net neutrality rules.

These are things which we have already had over the past two years. Why should a few seats in Congress invalidate all that work?

Despite an antiregulation message from many newly elected Republicans, Free Press and other net neutrality supporters have long argued that new rules would preserve the way the Internet has always operated. A Supreme Court ruling and an FCC policy decision in 2005, combined with an appeals court ruling earlier this year on the FCC’s authority to enforce informal net neutrality principles, have led to questions about the future of the so-called open Internet.

“You’re not talking about applying new, onerous regulations on companies and asking them to comply with a bunch of red tape,” Kelsey said. “You’re essentially preserving the status quo.”

But the new Republican lawmakers aren’t likely to see the issue the way Free Press does. “Will they sacrifice the policy on the alter of politics?” Kelsey said. “Maybe. That’s our job at nonprofit public interest groups … to explain that to newly elected members of Congress. That’s also the job of the FCC — if they’re serious about standing behind what they’ve consistently said is good policy, then they’re going to have to fight for it.”

Yes, because those new Republican lawmakers are drunk with the liquor of their own importance, and frothing at the mouth to get some of those big lobby dollars in their pockets – all the more reason why this should have been done long ago, and why things like this, unlikely to ever be undone, once done, and so very important to every citizen, should be handled in a direct popular vote.

Later in the same article, a bit more of the tone I put forth in a post yesterday; an unfortunate inference which likely has no basis in fact.

Opponents of new net neutrality rules saw the election in a different light. While net neutrality wasn’t a major issue in the election, U.S. voters clearly elected candidates who promised to fight regulations, said Hal Singer, managing director of Navigant Economics, a business consulting firm.

In the days before the election, 95 Democratic candidates running against incumbent Republicans or for open seats signed a pledge to support net neutrality. All lost their elections, Singer noted.

“One can infer from the election results that net neutrality is not consistent with the nation’s attitude toward regulation,” he said. “The candidates who embraced net neutrality likely embraced other extreme, interventionist policies, and for that, they were punished.”

It’s truly unfortunate that no exit polling was done on this question, because I doubt that any, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green Party, or AIP member had net neutrality at the front of their mind on Tuesday. It is unwise to think so, and before inferring it, a bit of a public sampling should be taken.

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I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.

Herbert Bayard Swope

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