Attempted Government Takeover of the Internet
The title of the Save the Internet Act is exceptionally disingenuous; a more appropriate name would be the ‘Big Government Takeover of the Internet Act’. For two decades, through both Democrat and Republican administrations and Congresses, the federal government has used a ‘light touch’ approach which has allowed the internet to thrive and to positively transform the American economy for the 21st century. In 2015, however, the Obama administration attempted to use the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to change the rules by classifying internet services as telecommunications under Title II of the Federal Communications Act. In other words, the FCC was trying to improperly apply 1930’s era legislation for ‘Ma Bell’ telephone services to 21st century technologies. Fortunately, in 2017, the Trump administration reversed the Obama-era rules and restored the successful internet regulatory structure that existed prior to 2015.
The bill attempts to reinstate the FCC’s 2015 order by reapplying Title II to internet services. Under Title II, federal bureaucrats would have broad jurisdiction over the internet to set prices, levy new taxes and fees, control content and interfere with capital investments. If this bill were to become law, which it will not, it would stifle innovation, limit broadband access for our rural communities, enable new taxes and fees for internet services and slow down the roll-out of 5G services. I voted against the bill for these reasons.
During consideration of the bill, the position of Democrats regarding internet taxation became pretty clear – they are not opposed to the imposition of taxes or fees on internet services. During the mark-up of the bill in the Energy & Commerce Committee, I introduced an amendment to prevent taxes or fees on the internet. Unfortunately, the Democrats voted down this amendment along party lines. When the bill came to the House floor for final passage last week, Republicans again introduced a motion to prevent taxes on the internet. Again, Democrats voted down this protection for American internet users.
The internet is the economic backbone of our nation. It plays an essential role in our everyday lives from education to economic growth and job creation. As such, it is vital that we preserve a free and open internet. While there are certain internet protections that Congress needs to address in the areas of blocking, throttling and paid-prioritization, there are several ‘light touch’ bipartisan solutions that would effectively address these concerns. Looking farther forward, Congress should also work together on a bipartisan basis to modernize internet privacy and to address the issues arising from internet monopolies and/or near-monopolies like Facebook, Twitter and Google.