Few would disagree that the Internet can provide an array of life-enhancing benefits, from helping you get an online degree, to allowing a single mother to work from home to support her family, or enabling people to monitor health conditions, like diabetes or asthma, from their smartphones. It is also, unquestionably, a powerful vehicle for self-expression and communication. The value of the Internet, however, only extends to those who have access to it and can afford to get online. It should come as little surprise, then, that Congressman G.K. Butterfield recently made headlines as one of the first Democrats to go on record saying that Congress needs to create a permanent framework to uphold “net neutrality.”
A few weeks ago, Congressman Butterfield expressed his concern that big companies would block or slow down internet traffic, or create fast lanes that allowed folks with deep pockets to buy their way to quicker access to people’s computer screens. Although the FCC recently issued rules that would guard against those harms, Congressman Butterfield is concerned the rules could be easily overturned in court, which has happened before; that they’d be subject to legal challenge, which they currently are; or that they’d be subject to change under the direction of a newly appointed Commission, which can change every time we get a new President.
Although Congressman Butterfield wants to see Congress create an enforceable legal framework for net neutrality, his detractors are quick to say he’s advocating the interests of ISPs who have been among his campaign contributors. And yet, those same detractors are magically able to escape the same criticism, even though they’re the beneficiaries of a nearly $200 million campaign to reclassify broadband – an effort supported by foundations and individuals who hold multi-million dollar stakes in companies that benefit significantly from reclassification. It makes no sense, and has more to do with politics than sound policy.
This “tail wags the dog” logic that’s currently at play is not only hypocritical, but it presumes that Congressman Butterfield and others like him who support a legislative solution for net neutrality are unable to form rationale reasons for their beliefs on their own. Contrary to the views of some self-appointed guardians of the public interest, there are several good reasons to be concerned about the FCC’s latest rules, and just because they serve the noble and necessary goals of preventing blocking, throttling, service degradation and fast lanes, does not mean they are without fault.
The “divide and conquer” mentality that’s behind attacks on Congressman Butterfield and others inflames divisions where, in truth, there need be none. Real progress could be made on this issue if people could sit together and have a rationale conversation about their differences.
But instead, some prefer this attack the messenger tactic – an approach that, frankly, has become a played out hallmark of American politics.
Attacking people whose views diverge on net neutrality is a strategy that doesn’t benefit real people at all. To the contrary, it takes the idea of having a “bully pulpit” too far and undermines the very tenants of democracy.