Leadership, not gimmicks, will keep the Internet fast

John Cooke
John Cooke

“Broadband Internet consumers are in jeopardy of losing an open Internet!” “The FCC has moved to take away Internet fairness!” “Internet censorship is coming!”

Do any of these inaccurate, partisan and fear-mongering phrases sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone. Regulatory ping pong over Internet access has spurred a war of incendiary words from both sides of the aisle, but it is important to understand what is at stake and what options are on the table. Congress is now getting involved, and there is currently some misguided talk about using the Congressional Review Act as a weapon to inflict short-term retribution rather than putting into place well-thought out, landmark legislation that will stand the test of time and pace of technological innovation.

How we regulate the Internet will impact generations of Americans to come. It deserves a public debate from all sides. What we need is a 21st century approach for a 21st century Internet. To do that, we should ensure Congress adopts a more thoughtful, deliberative and inclusive process — not some partisan legislative shortcut.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican from Colorado’s 6th District, is one of the few members of Congress who’s brave and principled enough to stand up on this issue and demand we hold an honest, open and thoughtful public conversation about how best to protect consumers with regard to the Internet.

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) restored popular and successful “light-touch” regulation that has governed the Internet since its inception. This framework was the engine that drove the game-changing growth of the Internet, enabled online commerce, brought us social media and gave rise to every net-based service we have come to know — from Amazon to Facebook to Netflix and everything in between. It spurred the growth of innovation, investment and infrastructure all across America.

In a reactionary response to the FCC’s decision, though, a handful of Democratic members of Congress are putting together a desperate effort to try to repeal these regulations, using an obscure legislative maneuver known as the CRA, or Congressional Review Act. The CRA allows a simple majority in Congress to unilaterally overturn a federal agency’s policies and regulations — essentially writing a law that bypasses debate, uses partisan voting procedures and allows for a rushed, short-circuited approval process with no public comment or input whatsoever.

If you think this CRA gambit to change the FCC rules under cover of darkness has all the makings of DC-insider politics, you’d be correct.

This backhanded legislative move will negatively affect consumers. The CRA puts back in place public utility type regulations from the 1930s that applied to telephones when calls had to be connected manually by switchboard operators. We can’t let out-of-touch representatives in Congress regulate today’s Internet with rules that were written 84 years ago for an entirely different and obsolete technology.

No matter where you stand on the issue of “net neutrality,” Congress shouldn’t politicize the future of the Internet. Our nation’s tech “backbone” is too important for this kind of haphazard, hurried approach. It isn’t controversial to ask our elected representatives to table the CRA process in favor a transparent, deliberate and comprehensive discussion about the most dynamic economic driver of our time.

Thankfully, Rep. Coffman plans to introduce substantive legislation that creates a new classification for broadband while protecting consumers’ unlimited access to the content they love.

This is the forward-thinking leadership Americans and Internet-users everywhere deserve. Not short-cuts and quick fixes, but long-term, workable solutions.

Simply put, Congress could use more leaders like Rep. Coffman – those who are working towards comprehensive reform to tackle some of this nation’s most contentious issues with a common-sense approach. This is the responsible way to make decisions about Internet access that will impact generations to come.

State Sen. John Cooke, a Republican from Greeley, serves as majority whip in the Colorado Senate. Reach him by e-mail at john.cooke.senate@state.co.us.