Jeb Bush: I’ll Kill the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules

“A shocking display of regulatory overreach,” the candidate says.

Sep 23 2015, 5:59pm

Photo: John Pemble/Flickr

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is pledging to torpedo the US government's landmark net neutrality rules if he reaches the White House, as part of a general dismantling of what he refers to as the Obama Administration's "creativity-crushing and job-killing" regulatory policies.

Bush's vow is just the latest Republican broadside against the new open internet rules, which were passed earlier this year by the Federal Communications Commission and are designed to ensure that the nation's cable and telecom giants don't favor certain online services at the expense of rivals or startups.

"Rather than enhancing consumer welfare, these rules prohibit one group of companies (ISPs) from charging another group of companies (content companies) the full cost for using their services," Bush said in a lengthy statement addressing various policies that make up what he calls "the regulatory crisis in Washington."

The FCC rules prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization deals, which are commercial arrangements in which ISPs strike special deals with deep-pocketed companies for preferential treatment, potentially snuffing out startups. Open internet advocates say that without net neutrality, the emergence of the next Netflix or Twitter could be imperiled.

Since its passage earlier this year, the FCC's net neutrality policy has become a bugaboo among Republicans, who claim the new rules will stifle private broadband investment, and amount to an Obama administration "takeover" of the internet. The rules are the subject of multi-pronged legal and political assault being waged by the broadband industry and its allies in federal court and Congress.

Open internet advocates lambasted Bush's vow to kill net neutrality, and accused him of parroting broadband industry talking points.

"Unfortunately, Governor Bush is siding with the phone and cable lobby against the public," said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, a DC-based public internet group that supports net neutrality. "His opposition to net neutrality is misguided, and he gets the facts wrong. Broadband providers and internet content companies alike are investing, and consumers can rest easy knowing that their rights to connect and communicate are protected."

Although net neutrality remains a niche issue in the presidential campaign, there is growing evidence that a substantial majority of voters favors a robust open internet policy. Earlier this year, 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."

Bush is just the latest GOP presidential contender to jump on the anti-net neutrality bandwagon. In April, Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, introduced a "resolution of disapproval" designed to kill the new rules, and declared the policy "a textbook example of Washington's desire to regulate anything and everything." And in March, Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, said that he is "very concerned about the message" the FCC's open internet policy sends to other governments like China and Russia that aim to control the internet to clamp down on citizens' speech.

And who can forget Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican, who memorably mocked net neutrality as "Obamacare for the internet."

Meanwhile, net neutrality enjoys broad support among the leading Democratic presidential contenders. As far back as 2007, Hillary Rodham Clinton backed legislation in the Senate to ensure internet openness, a position she reiterated earlier this year. Likewise, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, has been a longtime supporter of net neutrality. Just this week, he joined other lawmakers in filing an amicus brief in support of the FCC's policy.

Bush's anti-net neutrality stance may resonate with Republican primary voters who passionately dislike President Obama and deeply distrust the federal government. But given the broad public support for policies designed to ensure internet openness, it's unclear how much mileage Bush will get from his opposition to the FCC's net neutrality rules in the primary election—if he makes it that far.