Legislative maneuvers in Congress and in Juneau to promote net neutrality ignore a simple truth: They will not permanently protect a free and open Internet and will continue to leave too many Alaskans on the wrong side of the digital divide. Rather than spending time on gimmicks that have little chance of becoming reality, those who support an open Internet should urge Congress to develop a comprehensive bill that levels the Internet playing field and expands access for all Americans.
Following a December vote by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to repeal outdated regulations on the Internet known as Title II, some Members of Congress proposed repealing the order through a legislative device called the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA gives Congress the power to nullify rules enacted by federal agencies and requires only a simple majority to pass it — making it immune to filibusters and congressional debate.
Prior to 2017, the CRA had only successfully been invoked once. While it has more recently been used to repeal a handful of last minute Obama-era regulations, it has never been used to establish substantive policy that affects virtually every American.
Despite claims that the CRA would restore net neutrality, it would actually do nothing to strengthen protections for consumers and expand opportunities for all Americans to participate in a truly open Internet.
Worse, the CRA would simply reinstate Depression-era Title II rules that have not created the open Internet’s engine of opportunity with a level playing field that proponents envisioned. Placing the Internet back under Title II rules would also curb the critical infrastructure investment necessary for connecting more Americans to high-speed broadband. Such investment is desperately needed in Alaska, which is ranked 44th in the nation for high-speed connectivity, and where nearly 2.5 million people live in rural communities that are more difficult to connect.
Now, some lawmakers in Juneau are taking a similarly misguided approach by proposing a pair of state-based bills aimed at promoting net neutrality — following the lead of more than a dozen states considering similar legislation. But this could open the door to a complex patchwork of competing local laws that would make it difficult for Internet providers to offer consistent services, resulting in increased prices for customers while simultaneously reducing investment in broadband infrastructure expansion for Alaska and throughout the country.
The bills also ignore that the FCC’s December order included transparency rules, which require Internet providers to disclose their open Internet practices and are enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general. In other words, they are a solution in search of a problem.
The Internet has changed the way businesses operate, created jobs and opened doors to new economic opportunities. We need to ensure more Americans can be active participants in this growing Internet economy, which is why legislative gimmicks that don’t stand up to scrutiny are the wrong way to establish significant and far-reaching policy.
Instead, we need comprehensive congressional legislation that makes net neutrality the law of the land while ensuring a genuine level playing field that benefits all Americans and gives all communities a chance to participate.
Congress has an opportunity right now to forge a strong net neutrality bill that works for everyone. But to accomplish that goal, all those who support net neutrality need to set aside the caustic rhetoric and help forge a permanent legislative path toward a free and open Internet that benefits Alaska residents and all Americans.
Brent A. Wilkes is the former CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the country’s largest and oldest national Hispanic organization.