Yes Republicans, voting to Save Net Neutrality is the RIGHT Thing to Do
By Chip Pickering
A lot of my conservative friends have been asking me about net neutrality lately. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision in December to end two decades of bipartisan open internet policy just isn’t sitting well with our base.
Our small businesses are angry and conservative advocates are worried that big cable companies, like Comcast/NBC and AT&T (which is trying to buy CNN), will raise prices even higher and dictate content with gatekeeper powers over the internet.
Shockwaves are spreading across Capitol Hill with the historic Senate vote on the Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution drawing key Republican support from Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The vote has created tremendous momentum, and it will be nearly impossible for the House not to act.
Net neutrality has become the main street business issue of the year. As companies ranging from Burger King and ADT, to Etsy and Sonos have gone on ‘Red Alert’ to save net neutrality. And when the National Association of Realtors dedicates their national lobbying week to saving net neutrality, it’s a pretty clear sign this issue has real implications back home.
So how can Republicans get right with net neutrality?
Step One: Know your history
At its heart, net neutrality is a competition issue. From Roosevelt to Reagan, we are the party of competition and should never cede that ground.
In the past, I have written about the conservative history of net neutrality: From the first principles introduced by Republican FCC Chairman Michael Powell and successfully implemented by Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, to the first legislative effort on net neutrality that I led in 2006 with the backing of the Christian Coalition, conservative women’s groups and gun owners.
In a recent address to the Federalist Society, I explained that net neutrality principles and free trade principles are based on the exact same market theory. No blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization and interconnection, or open and equal access to markets.
Step Two: Stream Ahead
Americans love streaming and reject cable. It’s just a fact. Over 22 million Americans cut the cord last year. It is no coincidence that the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order and the explosion in streaming services and content coincide. Having strong interconnection laws on the books removed the threat that an ISP could extort fees and block a streaming service, as Comcast had done to Netflix in 2014.
Interconnection is the magic behind the $15 billion investment into new, creative content. TV shows and movies that cable gatekeepers once denied are now being green-lit and finding a broader audience online.
And after years and years of leaders like Senator John McCain fighting for lower cost a-la-carte cable choices, consumers today have access to skinny bundles and dozens more choices thanks to streaming innovation.
Now, the FCC proposal bets on a risky assumption: just trust the cable company to do no harm. But as Senator John Kennedy pointed out, there is a woeful lack of broadband competition, and people don’t trust the cable company. Think about your constituents’ relationship with the cable company: missed appointment times, rising prices, hidden fees. They rank last in Consumer Reports customer satisfaction surveys for a reason.
Step Three: The kids are all right
Houston, the Republicans have a millennial problem. In recent elections in Virginia, Alabama, and conservative Pennsylvania, our party has lost the millennial vote by 2 to 1.
Losing voters age 45 and under at this rate is a recipe for disaster — and unsustainable for our party. It’s no surprise that younger voters are among the most vocal net neutrality advocates. Young conservatives in rural America want to start their own businesses — be it restaurants, tech start-ups or construction companies — net neutrality makes it easier and cheaper to do so.
These younger voters were raised in a culture of internet freedom, and are baffled that any policymaker would support a return to gatekeeper control. These new small business owners are on to AT&T’s lobbying agenda for new price hikes, and wise to Comcast’s attempts to punish cord cutters.
Moving in the Right Direction
Look, our party leaders are well intentioned, and I agree with them that we need a permanent legislative solution that reinstates strong, bipartisan net neutrality policies.
But the first step is agreeing with over 80 percent of Americans that what the FCC did was wrong. They just went too far, and main street businesses will pay the price.
The cable companies want Republicans in Washington to walk the plank for them over net neutrality. Not only is this bad politics, but it’s just not in the interest of our constituents, our economy and our conservative principles.
INCOMPAS, is the internet and competitive networks association. Representing internet, streaming, communications and technology companies large and small, advocating for laws and policies that promote competition, innovation and economic development.
Follow us on Twitter: @INCOMPAS and @ChipPickering