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Rand Paul, Who Accepts Bitcoin Donations, Is Trying to Kill Net Neutrality

Sen. Rand Paul is running for the GOP presidential nomination—and he's also vying for the title of "biggest net neutrality hater."
April 29, 2015, 9:15pm

Sen. Rand Paul is running for the GOP presidential nomination—and he's also vying for the title of "biggest net neutrality hater."

Paul, the Kentucky Republican, has introduced a resolution designed to torpedo the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, in the latest GOP assault on the new open internet policy.

Open internet advocates call the measure a political stunt that demonstrates a basic ignorance of how the internet works—and is likely to alienate young, tech-savvy voters and potential Silicon Valley donors who strongly support net neutrality.

"Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are competing to be most clueless person on the internet," said Marvin Ammori, a tech policy lawyer and leading net neutrality advocate, referring to Cruz's infamous description of net neutrality as "Obamacare" for the internet. "Is this how they intend to court millennials?"

The "resolution of disapproval," which Paul introduced in the Senate on Wednesday, is a companion to a similar measure introduced in the House two weeks ago by Rep. Doug Collins, a Republican from Georgia.

"It's almost ironic to see such strong opposition to net neutrality coming from a candidate who is so heavily courting the technology community."

Paul's measure is the latest salvo in a multi-pronged legal and political attack being waged by the telecom industry and its allies on Capitol Hill against the FCC's rules, which were passed by the FCC in February. The new policy is designed to prevent internet giants like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from blocking or discriminating against rival internet services, or establishing online fast lanes for deep pocketed content companies.

The nation's largest cable and telecom companies and their allies in Congress loathe the new rules, which they claim amount to a government takeover that will harm the internet.

"This regulation by the FCC is a textbook example of Washington's desire to regulate anything and everything, and will do nothing more than wrap the Internet in red-tape," Paul said in a statement. "The internet has successfully flourished without the heavy hand of government interference. Stated simply, I do not want to see the government regulating the internet."

Net neutrality supporters, including President Obama, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, dozens of public interest groups, and hundreds of tech companies—from Silicon Valley titans to tiny startups—say the policy is necessary to maintain an open and level internet playing field, so that the next Google, Skype, or Netflix is able to flourish.

Sen. Paul at SXSW. Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press Action Fund, a DC-based public interest group, said that Paul, a first-term senator who worked as an ophthalmologist before entering Congress, doesn't know what he's talking about.

"Senator Paul has no idea what net neutrality is," said Wood. "His opposition to common-sense open internet principles shows how little he knows or cares about the law and the overwhelming support these rules have from businesses, innovators, and individual internet users."

A recent poll conducted by Vox Populi Polling found that 81 percent of voters nationwide—including 81 percent of Republicans—believe that "it is critical to maintain" an internet where service providers cannot block or discriminate against content, or strike "paid prioritization deals," which are principles at the heart of the FCC's new rules.

Despite significant public support for net neutrality, many GOP lawmakers have seized on the issue to demonstrate their ideological opposition to what they call "federal government overreach," and attack a policy that is strongly favored by Obama.

Paul, who has cultivated a reputation as a libertarian and even accepts Bitcoin donations for his campaign, seems to think that opposing net neutrality allows him to bolster his small government, anti-regulation bonafides, while appealing to the Tea Party wing of the GOP primary electorate, which is highly suspicious of the federal government.

But the Kentucky senator risks alienating the technology community, a constituency that he has been aggressively courting. Last month, Paul ventured to the South by Southwest festival, where he professed his "love" for the tech community, used Snapchat and Meerkat to chronicle his Austin exploits, and said he "had a great time jamming with Mark Ronson at the Pandora party."

It's worth noting that Snapchat, Meerkat and Pandora are all examples of online services that net neutrality supporters say could be at risk without strong open internet protections. If blocking, throttling or fast lanes were allowed, giant internet service providers could disadvantage these companies in favor of their own rival services.

"It's almost ironic to see such strong opposition to net neutrality coming from a candidate who is so heavily courting the technology community," said Julie Samuels, executive director of Engine, a nonprofit group that represents tech startups and supports net neutrality. "It appears Mr. Paul has a serious misconception about the community he's trying so hard to win over."

Paul's anti-net neutrality resolution, which was introduced under the Congressional Review Act, would declare that the FCC's new open internet policy "shall have no force or effect." The Congressional Review Act, which was passed in 1996 as part of Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America," allows lawmakers to overrule new regulations within 60 days of their publication in the Federal Register. The FCC's new open internet rules were published two weeks ago.

Paul and Collins' joint resolution of disapproval, which can pass both the Senate and the House with a simple majority, would face an almost certain veto from President Obama, which suggests that the measure is what's known in DC as a "messaging bill" that's primarily designed to appeal to the GOP base.

Wood, policy director at Free Press, called the anti-net neutrality campaign advanced by Paul and his allies "all bluster."

"Egged on by industry lobbyists, these congresspeople think they can fool people into believing that net neutrality threatens investment and innovation in digital networks," said Wood. "They insist that it's a government takeover of the internet when nothing could be further from the truth."