2016 Presidential Election and the Future of Net Neutrality

February 9, 2016

There are many hot-button issues being discussed in the series of presidential debates, as Americans are concerned about who is going to shape the future of the country. One issue, in particular, is that the next president will have a considerable influence over net neutrality rules. Net neutrality is the concept that every website gets equal treatment, particularly that each website is delivered at the same speed to consumers as every other site. In other words, all data needs to be treated equally.
Right now, net neutrality seems obvious but there are certain companies that want to serve as gatekeepers to the Internet and profit from it. These companies threaten a consumer’s ability to have equal speed and access to all websites. In this scenario, certain websites can be accessed faster because they pay a higher fee to be on the “fast lane,” whereas other websites will take longer to access as they will be on the “slow lane.”
Last March, the FCC came up with updated rules governing net neutrality. The FCC rules prohibit three things – blocking of content, slowing of transmissions, and the creation of “fast lanes.” Also, the FCC drafted a general conduct rule, which serves as a catchall, to stop new and novel threats to the Internet. Thus, it allows FCC broad control regulation for Internet activities that are found to hurt consumers, competition, or innovation.
The presidential election is important in shaping the evolution of net neutrality because the President appoints the FCC commissioners that each serve a five-year term. There are five commissioners in total, but only three may belong to the same political party. Thus, the political balance of commissioners can change based on who is elected in November. Listed below are brief descriptions of the presidential candidates’ views regarding the FCC’s regulation on this issue.
The Democratic Candidates
 Hillary Clinton is in strong support of FCC’s net neutrality plan. In fact, she would have liked it to get even farther. In particular, she wants to see changes enacted around incentivizing competition, something that’s sorely lacking in the broadband market right now; more broadly, she hopes to see internet connectivity treated more as an infrastructure problem. Likewise, Bernie Sanders also is in great support of protecting net neutrality and the reclassification of broadband providers as common carriers. In fact, Sanders has co-sponsored and introduced legislation in favor of an open Internet, such as the Online Competition and Consumer Act of 2015. This act is designed to enforce net neutrality by preventing the creation of “fast lanes” and prohibiting ISPs from giving preferential treatment to any content providers. Bernie has also introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act in 2007 and the Network Neutrality Act of 2006.
The Republicans Candidates
Winner of the Republican Iowan Caucus, Ted Cruz, takes a less friendly stance on the FCC’s net neutrality, saying it is “Obamacare for the Internet, the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.” Marco Rubio also takes a similar stance on the issue, as evidenced in his article, Government is Crashing the Internet Party. In this article, Rubio shows great appreciation and value for the Internet, seeing it as a “thriving exhibition of the power of free people.” However, Rubio finds that the “the issue of ISPs creating different speed lanes is not the injustice that it is made out to be,” but rather, “the answer to correcting injustice in an economy is to increase consumer power, not government power.”
The Republican candidates seem to be largely opposed to the FCC’s regulation because it is thought that the rules, and particularly the general conduct rule, gives the federal government much more power over the broadband industry than it really needs to effectively ensure net neutrality.

Interestingly, these Republican candidates do not represent the Republican Party as a whole. Republicans overwhelmingly seem to be in favor of net neutrality regulation.

The Internet Freedom Business Alliance and Vox Populi conducted a poll that found that 83% of “very conservative” voters were in favor of net neutrality, specifically that the government should take action to ensure that cable companies are not allowed “to ‘monopolize the Internet’ by charging some companies more to access customers.”
Although the new rules were implemented almost a year ago, this past weekend illustrated that the there is much needed in the way in interpretation and refining these rules. This can be seen by the accusation that Verizon is violating the rules by excluding Go90, its own mobile streaming service, from data charges that the other video streaming services used on phones are subjected to.