In the wake of the FCC’s decision in late December to roll back a series of Obama era internet regulations (commonly referred to as net neutrality), Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has introduced a bill in Congress entitled the Open Internet Preservation Act.
Many Republicans, libertarians, and other government skeptics may believe that the repeal of the regulations is where the story should end, and may be weary of congressional meddling. Yet, Blackburn’s bill is not arbitrary intrusion; it is a wisely crafted compromise between overbearing regulation and the current shaky post-repeal freedom.
The bill encapsulates three fundamental liberal values: free markets, civil liberties, and the rule of law.
First, regarding the rule of law, simply passing legislation in regards to net neutrality (regardless of the content) is a step in the right direction. Doing so takes away power from the executive bureaucracy, which stops the rules from ping-ponging back and forth as future administrations of differing ideologies rise and fall from power.
As for the content of the bill, it achieves two major aims.
It enshrines into law the express illegality of Internet service providers blocking any websites from consumers preserving the crucial civil liberty of access to information.
Yes, it is highly unlikely such a thing would ever happen, due to the fear of outrage it would inspire from the public.
Yet in an era where there is little to no competition between ISPs, public outrage may not be enough of a deterrent, since consumers can not vote with their dollars if they have no where else to take them.
Also, since Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013 of tech-industry corporate America’s cozy relationship with heavy-handed government agencies like the NSA, calling for an added layer of legal protection is not irrational.
The bill also ensures the right of ISPs to implement paid prioritization for content.
For those unaware, paid prioritization is when companies provide quicker or better service for clients who pay more.
This practice is found in almost every industry and is crucial as it allows for the occurrence of what economists refer to as price signaling.
Price signaling allows the market to reach a natural equilibrium in regards to the supply and demand of any given product, in this case, bandwidth.
This bill, by allowing free market principles to play out, incentivizes greater future investment in the Internet and prevents the downsides of shortages and surpluses that government intervention inevitably creates in markets.
The bill is far from perfect, and in its current form would end states abilities to craft their own laws regarding Internet service provider policy which, as a believer in decentralization of power to the states at first, I find hard to swallow.
Yet, the protections the bill provides to citizens civil liberties and free market principals will no doubt over take any concerns I formerly had.
Especially seeing as if we do not act now and enshrine the most crucial reforms into law, in 2020, a left wing executive could rise to the oval office and with just a few new nominations to the FCC undo the progress of wise regulatory roll backs.
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