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The future of net neutrality looks shakier in 2015

Laura Bradley | July 15, 2014
Right now, lobbying money is pouring into both sides of the net neutrality debate. But if the Republicans take Congress in the mid-term elections, that party's push to block regulation will likely prevail.

net neutrality

Net neutrality--the concept that all data should be treated the same by Internet broadband carriers--could face a shakier future after the mid-term elections. The Republicans will likely hold the U.S. House in November, and pundits say the GOP has a good shot at capturing the Senate majority too. If the voting records and public statements of various Republican legislators are reliable indicators, this could spell disaster for net neutrality supporters.

Politicians' positions on net neutrality generally fall along party lines. Democrats typically support it; Republicans usually oppose it.

The skirmishes generally focus on two key issues. The first is paid prioritization--deals that would let companies like Netflix put your favorite binge-watching TV shows in an Internet "fast lane"--for a price. Netflix joined other leading tech companies, including Google and Amazon, in filing comments today to the Federal Communications Commission. The companies urged the commission to forbid such practices and encouraging "simple, light-touch rules" as preventative measures.

The second battle is over broadband reclassification. Net neutrality supporters say reclassifying broadband transmission as a telecommunications service, as opposed to an information service, could boost the FCC's ability to enforce an open Internet--particularly against such practices as paid prioritization.

Spending on net-neutrality lobbying has risen steadily along with mainstream America's interest in the debate. The telecommunications industry is leading the fight against pro-neutrality legislation. OpenSecrets.org reports that since 2006, Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T each have logged more than 200 filings to lobbying firms involving "net neutrality."

The FCC reignites the net neutrality debate

The FCC stirred the pot in May when it proposed new rules to enforce an open Internet. The rules have drawn ire from both sides of the net neutrality debate by invoking the possibilities of paid prioritization and reclassification.

Net neutrality legislation, some responding directly to the FCC's proposed rules, is pending in both the House and Senate. Arguments from both sides appeal to the idea of preserving growth and innovation on the Internet. Where they differ is the believed source of the threat: The GOP warns against reclassification and heavy-handed legislation, while Democrats fear paid prioritization and the threat of a tiered Internet.

In May, Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, introduced a bill that would prevent the FCC from reclassifying broadband transmission as a telecommunications service.

Latta and others, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, oppose reclassification and warn such legislation could be a huge setback to Internet growth and investment.

Democrats have criticized the proposed rules, too, but push in the other direction. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Rep. Doris Matsui, D-California, proposed legislation to ban paid prioritization. They argue this is a crucial step in preserving a vibrant, level playing field for innovation in the Internet.

 

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