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Republican Reactive Neutrality


I feel like, “We warned you,” is not quite poignant enough. But well…we warned you. Those of us in the free market technology policy sector have been trying to wake up various think-tanks and Republican politicians alike to the dangers of Network Neutrality for roughly 6 years now. We were all ignored for the most part and now the reality is starting to sink in that Republicans will have to lie in the bed they made for themselves.

Thanks should be given to a few diligent organizations like the late Progress & Freedom Foundation led by Adam Thierer, Jon Henke’s Digital Society, and Information Technology & Innovation Foundation who have beat the drum tirelessly. In the last year Americans for Prosperity can be applauded for their efforts to educate and build up a grassroots movement. And organizations like CATO and Phoenix Center have provided key scholarly work.

Where was everyone else?

It’s not really a complex arithmetic to figure out that if you ignore an issue that you won’t make up any ground on the issue. Net Neutrality was essentially ignored by our side and the result was that we lost the regulation battle. Technology policy is not sexy. Much of it is hard to understand. Some of the time it is difficult for those of us that love technology to understand. We dig through it though because we have a passion for it and desire to find ways to communicate what many times is a lot of “techie jargon” into a language that normal people speak. This is no different than me trying to understand lawyer speak or this strange medical language that people like my father speak fluently. The reality though is that amongst policy circles, tech policy guys are still the nerds, and many times we are pushed aside, the attitude by the mainstream policy folk is one of, “Go back and play with your gadgets and stay out of the way of the important issues.”

Then what happens is everyone wakes up one day, the Net is regulated, business models are destroyed, infrastructure is in the hands of the FCC and provider side innovation is most likely about to take a dive and gents like Kevin McCarthy (CA-R) stand up and say, “Why didn’t anyone tell us?!” This is precisely what happened earlier this week when McCarthy wanted to know why various Internet providers were not doing more to help the Republicans fight against Net Neutrality.

Maybe it’s because you ignored them for 6 years, many of the major think tanks ignored them for 6 years, and they all finally conceded that with a Democratic majority at the FCC and no backing they were just going to have to cut their losses and hope for reasonable regulation. Then three months after rules are passed Republican leadership wants to stand up and ask why the ISP’s are not doing anything? Really?!

The facts are that Net Neutrality is not about keeping all the bits equal. Net Neutrality is about regulatory creep. It’s about controlling the infrastructure so that the message can be controlled. It’s about things like Internet Sidewalks, and Free Press’ founder Robert McChesneys desire to control information, have a government takeover of infrastructure, and control what is available to the people. We know this when he stated,

“You will never, ever, in any circumstance, win any struggle at any time. That being said, we have a long way to go. At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies. We are not at that point yet. But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”

The problem with Republicans and maybe conservatives in general is that we are responders; we are reactive, not proactive. This is a natural tendency for us because for most of us we do not desire to regulate and place burdensome laws on individuals. But at some point our side has to make the determination that the other side is proactive, and therefore we must be as well. Not in order to regulate, but simply to man the lines of debate, education, and involvement in an issue. For years those of us in technology policy have been screaming fire. A special thanks to those in office that decided to take the alarm seriously after the building has already burnt to the ground. Here’s hoping the Verizon lawyers stay at a Holiday Inn Express the night before trial.

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