by Michi Iljazi

Congressional conservatives should settle net neutrality for good

On June 11, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s landmark Restoring Internet Freedom order officially took effect, ending a failed three-year experiment in investment-killing federal micromanagement of the broadband market.

And believe it or not, the world is still standing.

Despite months of apocalyptic predictions from the Left, the FCC’s policy change didn’t break the Internet. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had famously warned back in February that Yankees fans trying to stream a game on their phones might only be shown every other pitch if Obama-era broadband utility rules were repealed; as a Tampa Bay Rays fan I haven’t personally tested his theory, but the lack of wide scale rioting across the Tri-State Area would seem to suggest Schumer missed the mark on that one.

Conservatives (and really, anyone who hopes the Internet continues to grow faster, more competitive, and more innovative) can be excused for celebrating this return to the bipartisan, light-touch consensus that had guided broadband policy for its first two decades. And sure, we might even experience a bit of schadenfreude in the months ahead as liberal doomsayers find themselves eating crow as their nonsensical predictions prove false.

But this is not the time to gloat. This is not the time for a victory lap. In truth, this conservative victory hangs by a very tenuous thread, and we could very well see defeat snatched from the jaws of victory if Congress doesn’t take this opportunity to pass permanent, pro-consumer, pro-investment legislation before the end of this year.

Why the need for a legislative solution now? The Left has already launched a multi-front campaign to reimpose the deeply flawed and onerous Obama-era regulations that slowed down progress on broadband expansion and development. Rather than showing humility as the folly of their Chicken Little predictions is revealed, Democrats on the Hill have instead doubled down by using a rare procedural tool called the Congressional Review Act in an effort to nullify the FCC’s order restoring Internet freedom.

Fortunately, this effort seems to be sputtering out in the House. But the demise of the CRA effort is hardly the end of the fight. Armies of lawyers from well-funded left-wing advocacy groups have already filed lawsuits hoping to overturn the FCC’s recent decision. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer will almost certainly put this at the top of their legislative wish list should Democrats win back one or both chambers in the upcoming midterms. And it’s a virtual certainty that old Obama rules will be reinstated should Democrats ever find themselves back in the White House — unless, that is, Congress comes up with its own solution first.

That’s why Congress must act now, while conservatives still control both chambers of Congress and a Republican president sits in the White House.

The truth is that net neutrality is not, at its core, a partisan or controversial issue. Almost everyone across the ideological spectrum agrees that consumers, not Internet providers or Silicon Valley gatekeepers, deserve the freedom to make their own choices online. That means no blocking, no throttling, and no anti-competitive discrimination aimed at limiting our choices in the free market of cyberspace.

The conservative argument against the Obama-era “Open Internet” rules was never about these basic pro-consumer principles. Rather, the fault in the FCC’s 2015 order was its decision to reclassify the entire internet as a public utility, using “Title II” rules originally written in the 1930s. Ponder for a minute the utter insanity of shackling the most dynamic innovation platform in human history with a Depression-era framework borrowed from utility sectors famous for chronic underinvestment and a complete inability to adapt to change.

Many conservatives both on and off Capitol Hill have therefore been clear that they’d support a net neutrality law — so long as it steered well clear of the intrusive micromanagement of the Obama utility rules. What’s needed is a quintessential free market approach: clearly define the rules of the road, then get out of the way and let consumers and entrepreneurs drive progress through their own free choices in the marketplace.

Commonsense legislation along these lines would be welcome and long overdue. While net neutrality has been hotly debated for nearly 15 years, Congress has consistently chosen to kick the can to regulators at the FCC rather than defining national policy through legislation. That’s not how our constitutional system is supposed to function — and for good reason, as the endless parade of overreaching FCC orders and subsequent court challenges has proven.

It’s time for conservatives in Congress to step in and settle this debate for good while preserving the Internet freedom that Pai and the FCC officially restored last month. If Congress fails to act soon, there’s a good chance we’ll end up regretting their inaction the next time the pendulum swings back to the Democrats.

Originally posted in the Washington Examiner.