Republicans go all Braveheart again with anti-net neutrality bill

They may take our bytes, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!

In the latest display of FCC-Senate two-step dancing, Senate Republicans have proposed new legislation that would eliminate net neutrality rules in America – just days after the federal regulator's chief announced he would fight to do the same.

On Monday, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) put forward a law that would kill off the FCC's Open Internet Order, passed in 2015, and try to prevent the FCC from issuing similar rules in future.

The bill has only just been introduced, and thus it's still in its infancy. Having said that, Lee is backed by some of the Senate's biggest self-promoters when it comes to internet issues: Ted Cruz (R-TX), John Cornyn (R-TX), James Inhofe (R-OK), Rand Paul (R-KY), and four others.

Thanks to the bill's goals – removing protections from consumers and benefiting large corporations while claiming to do the opposite – there was only ever going to be one proper name for it. That's right, it is the...

Restoring Internet Freedom Act.

Not to be confused with the Internet Freedom Act of 2015, which was designed to do the exact same thing, or the Protecting Internet Freedom Act of 2016, which tried to retain US government control over the domain name system.

No, this is the Restoring Internet Freedom Act. It's about the internet and goddamit it's about freedom. Can you imagine anything better? No, you cannot and that's why this legislation is so good.

What's it say?

The text isn't available yet but it sounds eerily similar to the 2015 version of internet freedom, in that it would reverse the classification of internet service providers as "Type II" common carriers – meaning that they are under the stricter rules that apply to telephone companies rather than the softer rules that cover internet services.

Under Type II, the government has the authority to stop companies from doing things like charging companies and consumers for faster access to specific content; without it, consumers must rely on cable companies' promises not to do so. The official description of the bill (S.993) is:

A bill to prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from reclassifying broadband Internet access service as a telecommunications service and from imposing certain regulations on providers of such service.

Whereas the 2015 version (HR 1212) – which didn't get out of committee – was officially described as:

A bill to prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from reclassifying broadband Internet access service as a telecommunications service and from imposing certain regulations on providers of such service.

[You didn't read that wrong – it is exactly the same.] Let nobody say that your representatives don't work hard for you.

"Few areas of our economy have been as dynamic and innovative as the internet," noted Senator Lee in his own press release. "But now this engine of growth is threatened by the Federal Communications Commission's 2015 Open Internet Order, which would put federal bureaucrats in charge of engineering the Internet's infrastructure."

Obama-yuck

That's a matter of debate, but what isn't is the fact that in 2015 Barack Obama was president and Ted Cruz is not afraid to raise that fact.

"Two and a half years ago, I said that net neutrality was 'Obamacare for the Internet'," he noted, reprising just one of his Obama-prefix epithets. "At the time, the Obama administration, in its typically deceptive manner, had conflated net neutrality – a worthy idea, as originally defined, to protect an open internet – with reclassifying the internet as a public utility ... a burdensome, behemoth of a law that gives all sorts of authority to the government to regulate pricing and terms of service and stifle innovation online."

By getting rid of the rules, Cruz claims – and as FCC chair Ajit Pai has also claimed – it will "generate billions of dollars of new economic activity and millions of jobs, largely free of government's heavy hand."

That is also a matter of some debate. And by debate, we mean sorely lacking in any kind of economic logic or analysis.

Just as with the Republicans' effort to remove "Obamacare for the health industry," aka Obamacare, there is one major flaw in this proposed legislation, as there is with the FCC's new proposal – they don't actually propose a replacement for the rules that would be removed.

Been here before

The reason the Open Internet Order exists is because the previous FCC rules covering the internet were challenged in court by Verizon and defeated. And those rules were themselves an effort to replace other rules that also didn't cut the mustard.

So, any effort to repeal the Open Internet Order is going to have to come with a "replace" part to it. And that is the difficult part.

It won't be easy, for sure: check out this story from 2006 covering failed Congressional efforts to deal with net neutrality, or this story from 2010 that is pretty much the same.

But there is an opportunity in 2017-18 for Congress to work together in a bi-partisan way to update horribly outdated telecom legislation for the internet era and achieve a win-win for both the economy and American citizens.

Or, you know, you can introduce pointless legislation while yelling "Freedom!" and "Obama!" and still get lots of press coverage. ®

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