2017 has been a year of bitter partisanship, but it's nice to see that with some issues, the dominant parties of the U.S. can put aside their differences in order to oppose something that's plainly harmful — and more importantly, deeply unpopular. That's increasingly the case with net neutrality: a handful of Republican representatives have joined their voices to those asking the FCC to delay the vote that would eliminate net neutrality, or for legislation that establishes the principle permanently.
The latest to turn is Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), who wrote in a letter today:
The Internet has been and remains a transformative tool, and I am concerned that any action you may take to alter the rules under which it functions may well have significant unanticipated negative consequences. Therefore, I urge you to delay your upcoming vote and provide Congress with the opportunity to hold hearings on the net neutrality issue and to pass permanent open Internet legislation.
This statement is not without problems — most importantly, the idea that Congress hasn't had the opportunity to hold hearings and pass legislation over the last few years. People have been making a ruckus for a long time but elected officials have more or less ignored them, or actively worked against them, as with the ill-advised repeal of the broadband privacy rules earlier this year.
At least Rep. Coffman, for one, can proudly say he was not among those who voted for that unpopular action; he was among 15 Republican Nays, and I thank him for his willingness to cross party lines in this matter.
Update: Having missed the broadcast and only seen a portion of Senator Thune's remarks, I was incorrect about his position. His full remarks, just posted, indicate he strongly supports the FCC's net neutrality rollback plan. I'm leaving the next few paragraphs here, however, so readers can see how I originally interpreted portions of his speech.
Senator John Thune (R-SD) also recently spoke out on the Senate floor, saying:
So many of us in Congress already agree on many of the principles of net neutrality...If my colleagues on the other side of the aisle and those who claim to support net neutrality rules want to enshrine protections for consumers with the backing of the law, I call on you today to join me in discussing legislation that would do just that.
While this may seem rather meager compared to Coffman's statement, bear in mind the timing. To ask for bipartisan support of congressional action just before the FCC takes its own action is essentially to say that he does not support the agency's proposal. Otherwise he would simply say that he trusts the FCC to do its job, they're the experts here, and so on.
It may be slightly cynical to offer opposition under the cover of plausible deniability — he can later say that this hypothetical legislation he wants would support the new rules — but the truth is he could have said nothing at all or spoken actively in favor of the proposed rules. He's keeping his options open, so it's up to us to make sure the right one gets chosen. As the wind blows, so goes John Thune.
Slightly weaker still but also appreciated is Rep. Jeff Fortenberry's (R-NE) tweet yesterday:
I recently urged Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to preserve the framework of net neutrality. The upcoming decision should not allow for corporate monopolistic domination, whether internet service provider delivery or content creators. #NetNeutraility
— Jeff Fortenberry (@JeffFortenberry) December 11, 2017
That's a bit like saying, the upcoming decision should not allow lava to rain from the sky and burn the world. He sets the bar pretty low for what constitutes responsible action by the FCC, but, as with Thune, the timing is important. He's indicating that he's willing to oppose the proposed rules should they seem to affect his constituency in a negative way.
The most credit should perhaps be given to Susan Collins (R-ME), who was the first Republican in Congress to publicly disagree with the FCC's proposal. She hasn't provided a big official statement, though (I've asked for one and will add it if it appears), opting instead to tell the Bangor Daily News in late November that she was against the FCC plan. Often it takes a move like this to clear the way for other, less senior politicians to see that it's safe to follow suit.
A handful of senators and representatives may not sound like much, but majorities in Congress are often decided by a handful. Politicians choosing to oppose the FCC's unwise proceedings regardless of how their party tends to vote or speak on the matter is a strong indicator that the next year may bring actual bipartisan action to repair the damage.
We're eager to to hear about official D.C. opposition to the FCC's plan to eliminate net neutrality — if your elected official has spoken out on this (or for that matter if you are an elected official who has spoken out on this or plans to), please let us know.