Why Is Net Neutrality A Political Issue? Democrats & Republicans Won't Settle For A Compromise

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Republican Senator Ted Cruz once called net neutrality "Obamacare for the internet," and it's obvious that the issue has a pretty stark party split: go right if you're against it and left if you're for it. But the reasons behind net neutrality as a divisive political issue may be confusing because, after all, doesn't everyone want an open and fair internet? Well, the reasons run much deeper than that, and it'll be apparent in Wednesday's Senate vote to overturn the FCC changes to net neutrality rules.

First, net neutrality is a set of rules in place aimed at giving internet users equal access to all web content while preventing internet providers from favoring certain sites over others. For example, if Comcast, an internet service provider and parent company of NBC, wanted to stream NBC shows faster than ABC's shows, it theoretically could.

Republicans are typically against any sort of government regulation, and voting against net neutrality aligns with that philosophy. It was, after all, the Republican vote in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that led to the repeal of net neutrality. The 3-2 party line vote gutted the internet oversight rules that were put in place under President Obama's term.

The GOP believes this move restores things back to how they were before 2015, to what politicians say is a free market ecosystem that's able to thrive even more. Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman selected by President Trump, along with other Republicans, have said net neutrality rules have discouraged people from investing in broadband networks.

In an interview with PBS, Pai said his concern is "that, by imposing those heavy-handed economic regulations on internet service providers, big and small, we could end up disincentivizing companies from wanting to build out Internet access to a lot of parts of the country, in low-income, urban and rural areas, for example."

Meanwhile, Democrats, backed by digital powerhouses like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, have said stronger federal rules are needed because of the potential for telecom companies and internet providers to exploit how crucial the internet has become to most people.

"...Our broadband providers will get extraordinary new powers," said Jessica Rosenworcel, one of two Democrats on the FCC who voted against the repeal, in a report by The Hill. "They will have the power to block websites, the power to throttle services and the power to censor online content."

Republicans may also be against net neutrality simply because it's an Obama-era legacy. President Obama pushed hard for it and wanted the FCC involved. Where we are today could partially be because of petty politics.

A poll by the Internet Freedom Business Alliance and Vox Populi found that 83 percent of conservative voters believed Congress should take action to ensure internet service providers don't have the ability to "monopolize the internet" or “reduce the inherent equality of the Internet.” The ability to do these things would come from allowing certain companies to pay extra fees for faster streaming and access to users. This poll may reveal a level of political grandstanding in that what conservative constituents want seems to be at odds with how Republican leaders are voting.

The other reason Republicans may be against net neutrality could go back to the usual suspect: money. If telecom and internet service companies contribute heavily to political war chests and they strongly oppose net neutrality, then politicians might follow suit.

The Democrats' rallying cry in their defense of net neutrality is that taking the rules away would give internet service providers the leeway to put corporate profits over consumers. Liberals and digital activists worry that telecom companies could become the gatekeepers to information and shut out small companies as well as start-ups that don't pony up the funds to pay for faster service.

The fight may not be over yet. A vote by Senate Democrats to repeal the FCC ruling will happen Wednesday. The net neutrality change is scheduled to take effect June 11.