On Friday, Senator Cruz gave a speech in Austin expanding his argument against net neutrality. He’s become the de facto Republican figurehead on the issue, his latest PR accomplishment, ever since he called it “Obamacare for the Internet” last week.
At one point in the speech, Cruz pulled out a rotary phone and asked the audience to imagine what broadband Internet access would look like if its openness were ensured by the government. “You ever tried to put one of these things in your pocket? It just doesn’t work!” he joked. Unbeknownst to him, apparently, wireless service is covered Title II, and it’s why all websites he visits on his iPhone are equally accessible to him regardless of provider.
The crux of Cruz’s argument is the almost-rhetorical question: “when you think of regulated monopolies, regulated public utilities, what are the adjectives that come to mind?” He suggests: “They are not bold, innovative, fair.” In further irony of Cruz’s ignorance, the Internet has been neutral so far and produced all its successful companies because of its fair playing field.
The Verge explains succinctly:
The problem is that “bold, innovative, and fair” aren’t words that come to mind when you think of today’s unregulated ISPs. In fact, Ted Cruz’s nightmare scenario doesn’t seem like a radical departure from what we’ve got right now. If its merger with Time Warner Cable goes through, Comcast will run over half the wired broadband market, and the “innovation” that net neutrality would prevent has so far involved blocking the BitTorrent protocol and giving its Xfinity video app a boost on the Xbox. Real competition — from Google Fiber or even municipal broadband projects — is what’s actually led to, well, competition.
The argument against net neutrality is a deceitful inversion of the argument for it. Net neutrality keeps the Internet open and free of profit – or governmental – control. But because a law is required to establish that freedom, Republicans can say that the government should keep their hands off of the Internet. Flipping the opponent’s values is a very smart tactic, one Cruz undoubtedly mastered as an accomplished debater, no matter how hollow the claim.
Notably, Cruz has also linked the separate push for an Internet sales tax with net neutrality. The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity went further, arguing net neutrality would amount to an Internet sales tax under Title II provisions. Both make broad assertions without supporting their claims of harm. Cruz warns explicitly in his recent Washington Post op-ed that “online retailers face an enormous threat because Washington may pass a massive, new Internet sales tax during the next two months” not least because they would have to comply with jurisdictional taxes all across the country. That is not the proposed legislation, but it helps this red herring argument chug along. Regardless, the proposal is already stopped dead in the Republican House after passing the Senate over a year ago.
Sadly, the opponents of such commonsense measures are fighting against the very values they’re championing. If Ted Cruz and the Republican Congress liked competition, they would love net neutrality. But they are indebted to the Comcasts, and so do their bidding behind false arguments. This point has been argued many times, and yet nothing has changed because the government has locked itself out common sense through corruption, and a heavy dose of base political distrust of collaboration.
Unfortunately, President Obama’s appointed FCC chair, Tom Wheeler, is very slippery on net neutrality. His delay in pushing forward a neutrality ruling is no comfort. Nor is it surprising; the man’s previous two positions are as a lobbyist with the industry organizations National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association.
One source of potential comfort is that killing net neutrality could become so unpopular that voters come out in droves for a repeal in the next election. But it would be far better to stop the distortion of the Internet in its tracks.