As the Federal Communications Commission readies new net-neutrality rules this week, congressional Democrats face a choice: Should they work with the Republicans who control Congress to help pass new rules, or should they stay on the sidelines and leave the matter to a volatile regulatory process, subject to possible undoing in the courts?
I disagree with neutrality — the idea that everything on the Internet should travel at the same speed, whether it’s the remote monitoring of a cardiac device or a video of a cat. But both critics and advocates of neutrality would likely agree that a new law is the best way to set new policy — not regulatory decrees.
Let’s start with some history. The Communications Act of 1934 says phone companies are like public utilities and should be strongly regulated. But the 1996 Telecommunications Act, championed by President Bill Clinton, labeled the Internet as an “information service” that should be lightly regulated. That seems like a good decision: The Internet has grown spectacularly in this unregulated format.
But last month, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, proposed treating the Internet like a public utility, run for the public good. He said that the Web should be regulated much like the Ma Bell telephone companies of generations ago. Why this sudden turnaround?
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