Like many folks I’m dreading the seeming inevitability of a Clinton-Bush presidential campaign next year involving Hillary Clinton against Jeb Bush. I’m 40 years old and half of my life has involved a Clinton or a Bush in the Oval Office (and it’s even worse if you count Vice Presidency). Both seem completely out of touch with the real issues of today. Instead, both are so surrounded by political cronies and yes-men that it’s difficult to see either candidate as being willing to actually take on the real challenges facing the world today. Clinton is currently dealing with the fallout from her decision to expose her emails to spies while shielding them from the American public. And Jeb Bush is now spouting pure nonsense on net neutrality.
Bush’s comments aren’t surprising, because despite Democrats and Republicans alike both strongly supporting net neutrality and those who truly understand the details favoring these rules, in Washington DC, net neutrality is a partisan issue. The reason almost certainly has to do with campaign finance. Splitting an issue down partisan lines makes it an issue that politicians can raise money around. Things that everyone agrees on aren’t useful for fundraising, and since politicians these days need spend half their time fundraising, politics gets distorted pretty quickly.
But Bush’s comments are particularly clueless, trotting out both debunked talking points and clear misstatements that appear to have been fed to him by the broadband players.
“The idea of regulating access to the Internet with a 1934 law is one of the craziest ideas I’ve ever heard,” he said. It was the first time Bush had weighed in on the subject since the FCC voted.
“Just think of the logic of using a 1934 law that was designed when we did have a monopoly for wireline service as the basis to regulate the most dynamic part of life in America,” Bush said. “It’s not going to be good for consumers. It’s certainly not going to be good for innovation.”
Except, you know, that’s not true. The 1934 Telecommunications Act was rewritten in 1996 by Republicans, who set it up this way with a clear plan for broadband to be covered by Title II. As Tim Lee at Vox recently explained:
The awkward thing about this is that the rules were drafted by a Republican Congress in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. In that legislation, Congress created two legal categories for online services: a low-regulation category for online services (known unimaginatively as Title I) and a high-regulation category for companies that provide basic infrastructure (called Title II).
When telephone companies began offering broadband access using a then-new technology called Digital Subscriber Lines, it was widely accepted that Title II — the stricter regime designed for basic infrastructure — would apply. After all, telephone companies had been governed under Title II for decades before that. Title II rules had ensured that telephone companies didn’t strangle the burgeoning market for dial-up ISPs, which provided internet access over telephone lines.
But Bush trots out the 1934 argument in a totally misleading way. And yes, in 1934 there was a monopoly for wireline service, but in 1996 when the Act was rewritten (again, by Republicans), there was actually a lot of competition in the ISP business thanks to line sharing. Yet, today, everyone knows that there’s basically no competition. While not a monopoly it’s at the very least an oligopoly with very little choice for most consumers.
Furthermore, the rules are pretty clearly just basic rules to prevent anti-consumer behavior by the ISPs. How that’s going to be “bad for consumers” is hard to fathom. And considering that many of the most innovative internet companies have come out strongly in favor of net neutrality, it’s hard to see how it’s going to be bad for innovation. You can’t even argue that it’s going to be bad for broadband companies either, since many independent broadband providers, like Sonic.net, have come out in favor of the rules. As we’ve noted in the past, it’s only bad for broadband providers that want to treat customers badly.
So, does Jeb Bush really think he understands internet innovation better than all these internet companies who have pointed out how the new rule is helpful to innovation?
Is Jeb Bush giving a giant middle finger to internet innovation? That hardly seems like a good campaign move.
But, apparently, Bush not only is doing that, he’s also going to totally misrepresent others to do so:
Bush said that Netflix and other backers of net neutrality are already regretting the scale the FCC’s action. “There is no support for this now,” Bush said. “The people who were concerned about this, the content providers like Netflix and others, have now disowned this.”
That’s just hogwash. There’s massive support for this, which Bush would have noticed if he actually paid attention to the internet, which celebrated when the rules were approved. Anti-net neutrality folks have seized upon an out of context statement from a Netflix exec claiming that it would have been preferable to find another route — but that’s not disowning the rules. We’ve been among those who have pointed out for months that reclassifying under Title II was simply the best of a bunch of not great solutions. Yes, it would have been better to have something even cleaner than reclassification, but that option was not on the table.
Restrained rules, based on Title II, are a perfectly reasonable solution to stopping broadband providers from implementing anti-consumer practices. The only “innovation” it may harm is the broadband guys innovating new ways to screw over consumers and successful internet companies. If Jeb Bush is looking for support from the most innovative sector on the planet, spewing lies and misrepresentations about key issues for the internet world seems like a piss poor way to go about it.