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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Net neutrality won the day in Washington, and that wasn’t supposed to happen. Republicans indignantly opposed regulating Internet service, currently dominated by a few cable giants. Texas Republican Ted Cruz called it “Obamacare for the Internet” (in his world, fightin’ words).

The lobbying money and muscle of Comcast, AT&T, and Time Warner no doubt stoked the lawmakers’ passions. And when the Federal Communications Commission voted to prevent Internet service providers from establishing fast lanes for favored customers, its two Republican members voted against it.

So why, when the FCC said the Internet would be treated as a public utility, like telephone lines, did Republicans retreat rather than battle on? The most cited reason was the successful campaign by open-Internet activists working alongside heavy broadband users, notably Netflix, Twitter and Mozilla, proprietor of the Firefox browser.

But there’s another reason. A lot of ordinary Americans hate their cable company. They fume with every month’s astronomically high TV-Internet-phone bundle bill, the product of the company’s monopoly or near-monopoly power.

High-speed Internet is seen no longer as a luxury but as the staff of commercial and personal life. Many Americans know that they are paying vastly more for far slower service than their friends in France, in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. For huge numbers of us, hating the cable company transcends politics.

Faced with these realities, the ideologically motivated voices on the right do what they do so well, avoid them. You have Holman Jenkins in The Wall Street Journal writing that the big tech names — Google, Facebook, Microsoft — didn’t fight against the net neutrality decision “because they didn’t want to be attacked by left-wing groups.”

(Yeah, Google, Facebook and Microsoft are so shy about defending their interests.)

In the real world, these big content providers have been for — not against — net neutrality. In a letter last spring to the FCC, they warned that permitting the Internet service providers to slow traffic for some sites and speed it for others would pose “a grave threat to the Internet.” Did they make themselves clear?

As for the politics, Barbara van Schewick, an Internet expert at Stanford Law School, offers a wildly different analysis of why Google and the others didn’t rush into the fray. She told Wired they “risked drawing the ire of the Republicans in Congress who might retaliate in various ways.”

Elsewhere in the real world, the cable companies don’t seem devastated by the FCC decision. The stocks of Comcast and Time Warner Cable actually rose in its wake. Their proposed merger was being held up by fears of creating a monolith that couldn’t be regulated. Now there are regulations, lowering those fears and making the merger likelier.

Meanwhile, Wall Street analysts have dismissed Republican claims that net neutrality will throttle the cable companies’ investment in infrastructure. After all, the service providers paid $44 billion to buy a new wireless spectrum at a recent FCC auction.

“They wrote that check full knowing that this was coming,” Daniel Ernst, an analyst at Hudson Square Research, said on CNBC.

Google is pro-net neutrality, though it did have some reservations about regulating the Internet like a phone company. That’s because Google’s business interests have spread into broadband. But note that the head of Google Fiber said the impending FCC decision “did not have any specific impact on (Google’s) plans to build more Fiber cities.”

All this solves the mystery of why Republican lawmakers did not bark after the FCC rejected their position. What’s left for the pure ideologues is a bowl of kibbles about the evils of regulation and the selfless good deeds of corporations. That bowl never empties.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at [email protected] To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at

Photo: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler makes a statement during the FCC vote on net neutrality on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Brian Cahn/Zuma Press/TNS)

  • Dominick Vila

    Looks like “too big to fail” means a lot more than government bailouts. For our beloved elected officials, messing around with the interests of the big boys, to protect the best interests of consumers, is tantamount to political sacrilege.

    • ralphkr

      Actually, Dominick, protecting the interests of consumers is just part of the fight by evil socialism to destroy holy capitalism.

  • bobnstuff

    I don’ think the republican law makes understand what net neutrality is and why it is important. Look at what they have said about it. Their argument against it is an argument for it in most cases.

    • Allan Richardson

      THEY understand it but they believe the rubes don’t (and sadly, too many of the rubes actually don’t), so they use high-sounding words like protecting freedom (whose freedom, and to do what?) vs nasty-sounding words like “gummint” regulation to confuse their voting base.

      There are rumors that the Republicans are working on a bill which, if it becomes law, will strip those regulations away from the jurisdiction of the FCC (remember the time Congress wrote a law overriding the FDA’s finding that saccharin was a carcinogen, making it legal again?). If a Republican gets the White House in 2016 AND the GOP keeps Congress, that will happen. Of course, so will a lot worse things, such as taking health care away from people who just got it last year for the first time, so this issue will become small potatoes. However, by manipulating internet speeds AND routing, cable and telecom companies will be able to assist political viewpoints and campaigns they like, and cripple those they dislike; imagine if no online donations got to any Democrats until it was too late to spend the money, or web sites like this one were throttled so that nobody would be able to read them! This would be the ultimate in censorship and gerrymandering (what if voters in “blue” precincts across the nation could not use the internet to request absentee ballots?) and could destroy our democracy.

      • bobnstuff

        I think you give them to much credit. I think they really are that dumb. Listen to them speak on the subject, or most subject for that matter.

  • Allan Richardson

    One of the rare occurrences of conflicting policy goals of equally big special interests. There is the old story of a small town judge deliberating a case being appealed, who got a $1000 check from one party and a $2000 check from the other. He called both of them into his chambers, gave $1000 back to the second party, and announced that he was now ethically bound to decide the case strictly on its merits.

    Considering that cable TV historically began as an infrastructure service to bring more stations (and in some places ANY stations) into poor reception areas, then became a big time industry producing (or hiring the production of) its own shows, perhaps it would be best for the public to split off that production function into separate companies, and let the telephone and cable companies concentrate on MOVING the signals of our TV shows, internet searches, and phone calls to our homes, businesses, and handsets. Either of the two newer major technologies (coaxial cable or fiber optics) can now be used to transport any or all of these signals (and old fashioned landline can handle voice or data, but not as fast as the others), so they should compete on their price and service quality, not which “content producers” they have special deals with.

  • Steven W

    Nothing neutral about it. It Is as neutral as Obamacare, It is as neutral as the Patriot Act is patriotic. Nothing but control at issue.

    • Insinnergy

      Back to Fox News, Troll.

    • bobnstuff

      Your right it favors the consumers and content providers at the expense of the Cable companies, most of who are hated by their customers.

  • Since most of you think regulating the internet as if it were a phone company is a great idea, I trust none of you will complain when you have to pay all the fees and excise taxes on your Internet bill, just as you’re paying on your phone bill.