Commentary: How better politics make a stronger and more open Internet


Americans don’t agree on much these days — but everyone knows our politics isn’t working.

Even the simplest of issues are no match for the spinmeisters, and policy argument has been replaced by viral meme. It’s a plague that undermines the very idea of meeting in the middle that has been fundamental to our progress.

And the open internet appears to be its next target.

Internet openness – or neutrality – is a foundation of the economic, social and cultural success of the online ecosystem. It ensures broadband providers don’t block access to lawful websites, throttle traffic, or harmfully discriminate against apps or services online.

Two years ago, the FCC enshrined these basic principles into law. And while there was a healthy debate over the need for regulation – since the internet was already open and working well – the basic principles of openness and neutrality were not controversial.

What was controversial, however, was a related decision by the FCC to “reclassify” broadband service as a “Title II” utility to increase the FCC’s authority. That was not necessary to protect net neutrality but it gave the FCC new power over the growing broadband economy.

But that overreach has now backfired in a massive and deeply unfortunate way.

New leadership at the FCC has voted to move forward with plans to reverse itself and undo the unpopular “Title II” decision, a wise move to ensure the internet holds onto its “permissionless innovation” culture and can continue to grow and expand.

But in the polarized and irrational Washington culture wars, some fringe voices seem determined to use the repeal of Title II to also destroy net neutrality – opposing bipartisan action to keep the net neutrality baby in place while the Title II bathwater is drained out.

It’s no surprise conservatives have always opposed intrusive Title II regulation. But many on the left opposed Title II as well.

The NAACP and Communications Workers of America have argued it would undermine network investment and eliminate jobs that are particularly valuable to workers of color. Others warned it would drive up consumer costs and threaten pro-consumer innovations like free data plans.

And now two years in, we see investment running flat at some ISPs and one study found a $4 billion investment drop in just the first two years of Title II. And many experts predict far deeper investment cutbacks yet to come.

So, the FCC is on strong footing repealing the dangerous Title II – but only if the popular and important net neutrality principles remain in place.

Some activists on the left, however, seem determined to gin up a firestorm around this issue that will make a bipartisan net neutrality replacement difficult. Even though they nominally support an open internet, these absolutists seem determined to exploit the complexity of this debate to tar anyone who opposes Title II as an enemy of net neutrality.

That kind of all-or-nothing rhetoric is great for fundraising and building email lists. But it’s a disaster for policy – and for the vital project of keeping the internet open.

This is a moment where real compromise and progress should be possible. As the FCC repeals Title II and embarks on an uncertain new process, everyone has something to lose – which also means everyone has something to gain. Fertile ground for Congress to step in and solve the problem once and for all.

An open internet statute would permanently lock in a signature achievement of the Obama years for progressives, while giving business the certainty and predictability conservatives have championed.

It’s a moment of truth for the activists and meme brokers and even the late-night comics who say they care about the issues – not just ratings and clicks. Will they seize the moment and support forward looking action?

Or will they burn down net neutrality just to have someone to blame when the next election rolls around?

Lewis is executive director of the Progressive Policy Institute.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Herman: The eclipse from 30,000 feet, or not
Herman: The eclipse from 30,000 feet, or not

I want my money back on my super special glasses I bought to watch the solar eclipse. Oh, wait a minute, I didn’t buy any super special glasses to watch the solar eclipse. But if I had I would want my money back. Here’s the deal, and here’s hoping your eclipse experience was more meaningful and profound that mine, and that perhaps...
Letters to the editor: Aug. 22, 2017
Letters to the editor: Aug. 22, 2017

Re: Aug. 17 article, “Efforts underway in large Texas cities to remove Confederate monuments.” Regarding Gov. Greg Abbott’s remark that “tearing down monuments won’t erase our nation’s past,” he is correct. But what monuments remain should reflect the truth rather than the kind of lie typified by the obscene...
Charles M. Blow: Failing all tests of the presidency
Charles M. Blow: Failing all tests of the presidency

We are leaderless. America doesn’t have a president. America has a man in the White House holding the spot, and wreaking havoc as he waits for the day when a real president arrives to replace him. Donald Trump is many things — most of them despicable — but the leader of a nation he is not. He is not a great man. Hell, he isn&rsquo...
Paul Krugman: What will Trump do to American workers?
Paul Krugman: What will Trump do to American workers?

With Steve Bannon out of the White House, it’s clearer than ever that President Donald Trump’s promise to be a populist fighting for ordinary workers was worth about as much as any other Trump promise — that is, nothing. His agenda, such as it is, amounts to reverse Robin Hood with extra racism — the conventional Republican...
Commentary: Rural hospitals are vanishing; keep Medicaid in Texas

First, there was hope for people in rural communities needing health care. As part of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid was expanded in 31 states and the District of Columbia, offering new coverage to millions and renewed hope for rural hospitals struggling to remain financially viable — many serving a high percentage of Medicaid patients. But...
More Stories