The head of one tech group says that despite President Barack Obama's call for net neutrality, he predicts Democrats won't actually push hard on it — because they have more to gain by dragging the issue out.
"This is really about theater because the net neutrality issue has galvanized the left. It has been enormously directive for building mailing lists, including donors," said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom.org, which opposes net neutrality. "This fight, the longer it goes on, is just a political winner for Democrats. They have no incentive, at least not at the White House, to see these issues resolved in a sustainable way."
Obama vowed to expand Internet access for all during his State of the Union address Tuesday, an issue that's been thrown into relief as the Federal Communications Commission is poised to vote on net neutrality next month.
"I intend to protect a free and open Internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world," Obama said.
Net neutrality is the idea that Internet service providers should not be able to restrict customers' Internet speeds based on how much they pay. Obama has called for the FCC to classify the Internet as a public utility, which would allow the agency to regulate it for all consumers.
Szoka, however, said the notion of "fast lanes" for higher-paying customers isn't grounded in fact.
"They've built an entire movement based on this idea of an imagined threat that cable companies are about to flip the switch and turn off the Internet," he said. "If they actually cared about that, they would want clear legal authority but not get tied up in court."
House Republicans have taken up legislation that would ban Internet service providers from slowing or blocking consumers access to any websites and stop them from creating "fast lanes" for customers who are willing to pay more. The Republicans' bill would also prevent the Federal Communications Commission from making its own net neutrality rules, countering any actions the FCC might be planning to take.
The FCC is expected to propose a new set of rules Feb. 26 that would reclassify the Internet as a public utility.
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