A Phony Vote on ‘Net Neutrality’

Democrats try to rile up millennials about a deregulated internet.

 
 

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai speaks during a forum in Washington, D.C., April 18.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai speaks during a forum in Washington, D.C., April 18. PHOTO: ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES
 

One extreme part of the anti-Trump “resistance” is outrage, including death threats, against Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai because he wants to roll back the Obama Administration’s regulation of the internet. Senate Democrats are now whipping up this base ahead of a phony vote on Wednesday, and the ironies are many.

Senate Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts and colleagues are forcing a floor vote to “save” something called “net neutrality.” That foggy concept has become in practice regulating the internet as a public utility, which the Obama Administration did in 2015. Mr. Markey says the Trump FCC “takes away a fundamental right” to a diverse and open internet.

The real issue isn’t if you’ll be free to surf the web but whether the federal government should dictate what rates providers can set for services. The FCC’s Mr. Pai is rolling back the Obama rules, which means restoring the status quo of a mere few years ago.

Senate Democrats are trying to overrule Mr. Pai by deploying the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to reject Mr. Pai’s rule within 60 legislative days. The Democrats can force a floor vote with a mere 30 votes. Resolutions can dodge a filibuster and pass with a simple majority.

 
 

How could this pass a GOP Senate? Meet Republican Susan Collins of Maine, who is supporting the resolution. The irony in her case is that largely rural states like Maine need more broadband investment, which has been a casualty of the neutrality scheme. Apparently investment to broaden the reach of broadband lacks the emotive political appeal of “net neutrality.”

Net neutrality activists recently took out a full page ad in a Juneau newspaper to try to pick off Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, though her vote might not be necessary. By pushing a vote Chuck Schumer is exploiting the fact that Republican John McCain of Arizona is battling cancer and unavailable to vote. That won’t be remembered as a class act.

And here comes the farce. Remember all the shock and horror over Facebook ’s data misuse? The move by Democrats would bifurcate and weaken privacy protections online.

As part of its Obama net neutrality rules, the FCC conscripted the Federal Trade Commission’s online privacy protection duties. Then the FCC promulgated a set of privacy rules that applied to cable providers but not Facebook or Google, as if consumers care who is lifting their data. This was both separate and unequal.

The current Republican-led Congress then moved to reject the privacy rules with a Congressional Review Act resolution, and President Trump signed that bill into law. By the way, Ms. Collins voted to scuttle the privacy rules. The review measure prevents agencies from issuing similar regulations. So Democrats are now moving to yank the FTC’s right to protect privacy with no replacement.

Then again, none of this is about the policy merits: The point is to fire up Democrats ahead of midterm elections. Net neutrality is the perfect issue for the left because it sounds virtuous and hardly anyone knows or cares what it means.

That’s in part because it has enjoyed a powerful propaganda campaign from the giants of Silicon Valley, which can absorb new regulatory costs better than smaller competitors and don’t want to pay for content delivery. The tech giants have throttled down this campaign in recent years, but millennial voters are still convinced that only federal regulation can fend off a dystopian future when Netflix might not load rapidly enough.

All of this is for political show because the House is unlikely to take up the measure, and Mr. Trump—we hope—wouldn’t undermine his own appointee’s important reforms. But remember this stunt when Mr. Pai’s rules take effect and the web doesn’t cease to exist.

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