Anyone doubting the power lobbyists still hold in Washington need only look at the ongoing, shameful net neutrality travesty.
It was bad enough that Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, engineered the repeal of President Barack Obama’s landmark rules prohibiting internet service providers from blocking or slowing down the internet or giving preference for certain online content.
Now Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee wants to lock the vast majority of Pai’s rules into law through her proposed legislation with the Orwellian title: the Open Internet Preservation Act.
The Verizon, AT&T and Comcast Dream Act would be more appropriate.
Unlike Pai’s new rules, Blackburn’s bill would prevent ISPs from blocking access to websites. That’s good news. But Blackburn would put into law the FCC chairman’s approval to allow ISPs to charge content providers on websites a premium for faster speeds. The legislation would devastate small businesses and startups from being able to compete, throttling creativity and innovation. It would also rake in billions for the ISPs who have poured more than $600 million into their lobbying efforts over the last 20 years.
Blackburn has been one of their prime beneficiaries, receiving more than $500,000 from telecom companies since she took office in 2002, including $84,000 in the most recent election cycle, the biggest contribution to any member of the House of Representatives.
Don’t expect Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or Republicans in the Senate to stand up for consumers in a heist that will net Verizon, AT&T and Comcast billions. Telecom companies gave McConnell a cool $250,000 in the last election cycle.
Blackburn also went out of her way to block any notion of Democratic-led states writing their own net neutrality laws. Her bill would pre-empt states from passing "any law, rule, regulation, duty, requirement, standard or other provision" related to net neutrality.
The Tennessee Republican was well aware that in California only days after the FCC vote, state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco announced that he would introduce a net neutrality bill when the Legislature reconvenes in January. Wiener later indicated that he would join forces with New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman of Manhattan to write legislation that would restore net neutrality to both states.
Democrats in Congress are hoping that a small number of Senate Republicans who in the past have expressed some support for net neutrality may find the courage to oppose Blackburn’s bill if it reaches the Senate floor, as expected.
It will take a major show of outrage by consumers and the tech industry to help make the case. They can start by citing a recent survey by the University of Maryland showing that 80 percent of Americans — including 75 percent of Republicans — oppose the notion of repealing net neutrality regulations.
The only alternative is to hope the courts strike down Pai and Blackburn’s efforts — or that enough Democrats win seats in 2018 to start their own cycle of congressional "repeal and replace."