Senator John Thune (R-SD) speaks to members of the media, November 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Setting the stage for a net-neutrality fight

Updated
During a Google+ “hangout” last week, a voter in Arizona asked President Obama if he supports net neutrality. Obama said the policy is “something that I’ve cared deeply about ever since I ran for office” and he continues to be “a strong supporter of net neutrality.”
 
As for the recent federal appeals court ruling against the policy, the president added that FCC Chairman Ted Wheeler, who also supports net neutrality, and his team are “looking at all the options at their disposal – potential appeals, potential rule making, a variety of tools that they may have in order to continue to vindicate the notion of a free and open Internet.”
 
The president probably shouldn’t expect congressional support in this area. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a long-time opponent of net neutrality and the co-chair of the Congressional Internet Caucus, spoke at the annual State of the Net policy conference and called for fewer consumer safeguards.
“I wish more government officials shared my optimism about how successful the Internet is about facilitating individual economic empowerment,” he told the conference, which was hosted by the nonprofit Internet Education Foundation.
 
“There are exceptions of course, but far too often, when you hear someone say, ‘We need regulations to protect the Internet,’ what they’re actually saying is they don’t really trust the entrepreneurs and Internet technologists to create the economic growth and to increase public welfare.” […]
 
The remarks from GOP lawmakers seemed to be a direct challenge to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, who spoke at the event earlier in the morning. Wheeler made the case for government action to ensure equal treatment of content online as well as oversight of the ways that networks connect to each other on the Internet, known as peering.
It would seem from his comments that Thune may not fully understand what net neutrality is.
 
There are, to be sure, experts who can speak to the details with more authority than I can, but the general thrust of the policy is about making online content equally accessible to users, regardless of service providers.
 
For example, imagine an online landscape in which your service provider had a package of preferred websites – customers could access those sites quickly and easily, and they would function as they’re supposed to. But the ISP also had websites with unfavorable status – when customers tried to access sites the service provider doesn’t like for whatever reason, maybe the sites would load slowly. Maybe consumers would have to pay more to access them. Maybe both.
 
Many consumer advocates think that’s unfair – service providers shouldn’t be in a position, the argument goes, to make website access easier or harder based on the ISP’s business decisions. The point of net neutrality is to create a level playing field, prohibiting service providers from playing favorites.
 
That’s the policy the Obama administration adopted, and it’s the same policy the D.C. Circuit struck down last month, leaving officials scrambling for an alternative.
 
For Thune, this is great news. If service providers can start making it easier or harder for consumers to access websites based on the company’s business deals, it means entrepreneurs can “create economic growth.”
 
Sure, maybe you’ll struggle to access websites you currently like, and perhaps you’ll find that frustrating, but you can take comfort in the fact that you’re “facilitating economic empowerment.”
 
Explore:

Technology

Setting the stage for a net-neutrality fight

Updated