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Trump and His Advisors on Net Neutrality

DEEPLINKS BLOG
December 19, 2016

Donald Trump's silhouetteThrough the combined efforts of EFF and a coalition of public interest groups -- and four million of you who wrote in to the FCC -- we won carefully tailored and essential net neutrality protections in 2015 and defended them in court in 2016. But how will the incoming Trump administration impact net neutrality in 2017? We’ve collected a range of statements on the positions of Trump, his transition team, and those who are likely to guide the new administration on this issue.

Trump took a swipe at net neutrality in a November 2014 tweet, stating, “Obama’s Attack on the Internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target Conservative Media.”

The Republican Party platform [PDF] was also critical of net neutrality, and Trump’s transition team is stocked with staunch opponents to net neutrality.

Several key members of Trump’s transition team belong to a block of Republicans in Congress that have long sought to undermine net neutrality. Vice-President-elect Pence, the chair of Trump’s transition team, co-sponsored a 2011 bill that would have stripped the FCC of authority to govern Internet access services, as it did in the Open Internet Order. That bill, the Internet Freedom Act, was sponsored by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, and co-sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Rep. Tom Reed, and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, all vice-chairs on Trump’s transition team. Pence (along with vice-chair Rep. Marsha Blackburn, and other members of the transition team) also voted against net neutrality as early as 2006.

Vice-chair Rep. Marsha Blackburn has routinely introduced bills that attempt to block effective net neutrality from every angle. In 2011, she sponsored the Internet Freedom Act, discussed above. She re-introduced it in 2014—this time, the bill would have prohibited the FCC’s proposed net neutrality rules from coming into effect and kept the agency from re-issuing such rules in the future, unless explicitly authorized by Congress. That bill was re-introduced again in 2015, this time seeking to nullify the FCC’s Open Internet Order and prevent the agency from re-issuing them, unless authorized by Congress. In 2016, Rep. Blackburn sponsored an amendment to the annual budget authorization that would prohibit the use of federal funds to implement any of the FCC's proposed broadband privacy rules. Rep. Blackburn also co-sponsored bills aimed at altering the process through which the FCC can pass rules like the Open Internet order, and further limiting the FCC’s ability to do so.

Rep. Blackburn also co-sponsored two resolutions, one in 2010 and one in 2011 (both with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, vice-chair) challenging the FCC’s authority to implement an earlier version of net neutrality. The 2011 resolution was also co-sponsored by Rep. Nunes another vice-chair, and VP-elect Pence, and passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but died in the Senate. This year, Rep. Blackburn co-sponsored H.R. 2666, the No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act, a bill with the potential to undermine net neutrality.

Rep. Blackburn has been highly critical of net neutrality in her public statements. In 2016, in support of a Senate bill attacking net neutrality, Blackburn stated, “[w]e must stop the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules, which are nothing more than a Trojan horse for government takeover of the Internet. These overreaching rules will stifle innovation, restrict freedoms, and lead to billions of dollars in new fees and taxes for American consumers.” And in 2014, Rep. Blackburn issued a statement insisting that Congress, not the FCC, should decide when to “regulate the Internet,” and called the proposal a “net loser[] that need[s] to be retired once and for all.”  Rep. Blackburn responded similarly to the much more limited 2010 Open Internet rules, stating “[t]he FCC is building an Iron Curtain that will restrict more of our freedom.” This followed her earlier comment that the FCC had taken a “vampiric leap from its traditional jurisdiction.”

Rep. Blackburn hasn’t limited her assault on the open Internet to net neutrality: she was also an initial co-sponsor for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a disastrous bill that would have allowed for blocking of "blacklisted" websites. Fortunately, the public rose up to protect the Internet back then, too.

Several members of the transition team’s executive committee also oppose net neutrality. Rep. Tom Marino disagreed with the commission’s Open Internet rules and called the decision a “slippery slope which ultimately endangers our liberty… regulating the internet is just another way this Administration uses the bureaucracy to allow and condone more regulation and government control.” Rep. Chris Collins also opposed the decision, saying “[t]he FCC’s actions threaten the innovative culture that makes the Internet one of the world’s greatest technologies.” He called the decision “a direct threat to Internet freedom” and a “foreshadowing of the big government overregulation that will stem from Title II classification.” And Rep. Devin Nunes also objected to the rules.

Rep. Dennis Ross, and Rep. Ryan Zinke, Trump's pick for Interior Secretary, co-sponsored a resolution disapproving the FCC’s Open Internet rules. Sen. Jeff Sessions, vice-chair of the transition team and Trump’s pick for Attorney General, co-sponsored a senate resolution along the same lines with regard to the 2010 rules.

When the Open Internet Order was challenged in court, both Rep. Blackburn and Rep. Zinke joined a group of House Republicans in an amicus curiae brief to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The brief argued that the FCC lacked the authority to classify Internet service providers as common carriers under Title II.

Trump’s advisor Peter Thiel has likewise been outwardly critical of net neutrality, saying in a Reddit AMA that net neutrality “hasn’t been necessary so far, and I’m not sure anything has changed to make it necessary right now. And I don’t like government regulation.”

It is not yet clear who will be replacing Chairman Wheeler next year, or who will fill seats vacated by democratic commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn (when her term ends, or if she decides to leave sooner). Trump has tapped Jeffrey Eisenach, Roslyn Layton and Mark Jamison, three highly vocal opponents of net neutrality, to lead the transition team’s work at the agency -- suggesting they may be candidates for the post. Eisenach, Layton, and Jamison have all been prolific in their opposition to the FCC's net neutrality rules, and the following merely provide a sample of their comments.

Eisenach, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and former consultant for Verizon and the trade association GSMA has argued that “net neutrality is not about protecting consumers from rapacious Internet Service Providers (ISPs)… And it has nothing to do with protecting free speech or dissenting voices. Net neutrality is crony capitalism pure and simple—an effort by one group of private interests to enrich itself at the expense of another group by using the power of the state.” Eisenach has also called net neutrality a “government mandated rip-off,” and a threat to global Internet freedom. In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Eisenach argued “[d]eclaring the Internet a public utility is not necessary, and it will surely prove to be unwise.” He’s also described it as “a political circus” and “Wheeler’s Vietnam.”

In 2014, Eisenach testified [PDF] in Congress and asserted that net neutrality “cannot be justified on grounds of enhancing consumer welfare or protecting the public interest. Rather, it is best understood as an effort by one set of private interests to enrich itself by using the power of the state to obtain free services from another—a classic example of what economists term 'rent seeking.'"

Mark Jamison, a visiting fellow at the SEI and former lobbyist for Sprint, has also been highly critical of the FCC’s approach to net neutrality. In an op-ed, Jamison criticized net neutrality as “bestowing benefits to some segments of the industry at the expense of other segments, and at the expense of customers, who ultimately bear the brunt of regulatory rent-seeking.” He also called for dramatically scaling back the FCC’s duties. He’s called the FCC’s decision “inconsistent with a stable, evidence-based regulatory approach” and questioned the agency’s authority. Jamison has, however, supported a multi-stakeholder best practices approach to net neutrality, or failing that, explicitly Congressionally authorized regulation under limited conditions.

Roslyn Layton, also an AEI fellow, co-authored a report [PDF] with Jamison, arguing that net neutrality “is failing.” Layton also rejects the idea that government regulation is needed to protect net neutrality.

When Trump’s administration takes office, the administration will soon be able to appoint three members of the Federal Communications Commission, including a new Chairman. Existing Republican commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Reilly have criticized the commission’s net neutrality decision, and dissented [PDF] from [PDF] the Commission’s Open Internet Order. Either one could also be nominated for the Chairman’s position.

Commissioner Pai, in a recent speech [PDF], predicted that the Open Internet Order’s “days are numbered” and hoped for “a more sober” regulatory approach under the new Administration. In a speech given at the same event, Commissioner O’Reilly expressed [PDF] a desire to "undo harmful policies" and advised that "[n]ext year’s Commission should consider acting quickly to reverse any damaging policies put into place over the last eight years and in the last few weeks of this Administration.”

Whoever Trump picks to lead the FCC in the next administration, there’s ample reason to believe that net neutrality will be under threat.

This blog post is part of a campaign asking the tech community to defend users and digital rights. Have we missed something important? Send us any additional statements from Trump and his advisors about net neutrality by emailing kerry.sheehan@eff.org.

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