The hypocrisy of Republican opposition to net neutrality
Earlier today, President Obama made his strongest endorsement yet in favor of net neutrality, calling for an "explicit ban" on agreements that would allow the biggest content providers like Netflix to pay Internet service providers for faster service.
"An open Internet," Obama said, "is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life."
If the nation's learned anything over the past six years, it's that if Obama supports something, you can guess how Republicans feel about it. Of course, Republicans have long opposed net neutrality rules, but today, after Obama's grand gesture and perhaps having been emboldened by the party's takeover of the Senate in last week's election, Republicans came out swinging against net neutrality like never before. In an astounding piece of ludicrous rhetoric, Tea Party darling and perpetually-smirking pile of dog shit Ted Cruz went so far as to call the proposal "Obamacare for the Internet." Kudos to Cruz for exercising some restraint: His advisers must have discouraged him at the last moment from describing net neutrality as "Kenyan death panels for the Web."
When viewed through the lens of the party's dogmatic rejection of new government regulations, Republican opposition to net neutrality makes sense. But as the political party that claims to support small businesses and entrepreneurship, the GOP's anti-net neutrality stance is the height of hypocrisy.
Take Arkansas entrepreneur Matt Hudson for example. I spoke to Hudson a few months back about an app he'd launched called VoteRockIt, which helps smaller political candidates launch attention-grabbing online campaigns. For Hudson, the fight for net neutrality is about more than political gamesmanship -- it affects his livelihood as a small business owner.
“The Internet is the only true leveling of the playing field that there is in our country,” Hudson told me. “It’s the only thing that gives the small guys the chance to compete.”
If the biggest content providers like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube pay for a faster delivery channel, that could keep startups like Hudson's business stuck in the slow lane -- or the Internet equivalent of cable access television.
“For a poor kid from one of the poorest kids in the union," Hudson adds, "being able to work my butt off to learn the things I need to learn [about computers]? Everyone deserves to have that.”
A poor kid from the Deep South picking himself up by his bootstraps to learn to code and escape poverty? That's precisely the kind of narrative the GOP constantly pushes when arguing against social welfare programs. And yet by opposing net neutrality protections, Republicans have made it clear that they would rather use the issue as a talking point in their war against Obama's Big Government, than to help create a fairer playing field for small business owners.
For more proof that Republicans' stance is pure politics, consider that there are rational arguments against net neutrality -- it's just that the GOP isn't making them, instead harping on the anti-regulation angle. Peter Weber described this in "The Week" last February:
There are cogent arguments to make against net neutrality. The most persuasive, perhaps, is that if ISPs can't unilaterally add surcharges for companies that use large amounts of bandwidth, a small number of heavy internet users are essentially getting a free ride on the backs of lighter-using customers who mostly read blogs and laugh at cat gifs. If Netflix traffic accounts for a full third of all internet activity, shouldn't it pay to help ISPs upgrade their infrastructure to accommodate that traffic?
Those are the type of points big ISPs are making, even as they rake in money from paying broadband customers (the companies with the keys to the internet are perhaps the only ones guaranteed a profit in the crazy internet economy). But it's not the argument Republicans are making. Their main complaint is that this is government interference in the free market. Net neutrality may run counter to Republicans' idea of a free market. But the lack of net neutrality protections will only place roadblocks for small businesses looking to break through. And while Obama's proposal may technically constitute government interference, the alternative -- wherein incumbents can keep newcomers out through exorbitant broadband prices -- is hardly a recipe for entrepreneurship and innovation.