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Taking Net Neutrality A Little Too Seriously

Several crucial policy decisions made in the 1990s allowed the internet to grow from a tool used by scientists and researchers to the incredible source of information, communication and e-commerce we depend upon today.

  • The Internet Tax Moratorium protected the internet against discriminatory taxes on ecommerce.

  • The digital signatures bill, sponsored by IPI’s founder, Congressman Dick Armey, made much of current e-commerce and business-to-business transactions possible.

  • The Clinton administration’s decision, after a massive policy fight, to allow use of encryption. Otherwise, there never would have been safe e-commerce, or secure internet communication.

  • Finally, there was the Federal Communication Commission’s decision to classify internet broadband service as a lightly regulated information service rather than a heavily regulated telecommunications service.

These decisions, all made two decades ago, created the environment that allowed for rapid innovation and expansion of internet access, services and technology—and not just in the U.S., but all over the world.

The success of this policy regime is self-evident, but only in Washington DC can two decades of success be seen as a failure. So in 2015, the Obama administration reversed one of these key decisions and subjected broadband networks to heavy regulation as a telecommunications service.

This decision was reflective of the overall pro-regulation approach of the Obama administration. As you would expect, with the election of a Republican president, much of this regulatory overreach is now being corrected, including the broadband regulations.

But here’s where things get crazy. You wouldn’t think people would come unhinged over reversing a policy that was in place for less than two years and returning to policies that were clearly successful for 20 years. But you would be wrong.

Advocacy organizations have used Chicken Little “the sky is falling” social media campaigns for several years to convince their audiences that terrible things are going to happen without federal net neutrality regulations. And their campaign has borne rotten fruit.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had threatening signs posted outside of his home, was harassed, and had his children threatened by name. When he arrived at a speaking engagement yesterday, he had to be protected by a police detail.

Separately, a Syracuse man threatened to kill Congressman John Katko and his family if the congressman did not “support net neutrality.” Criminal charges have appropriately been filed against this nut case, but the FBI should also be investigating the threats made against Chairman Pai, as IPI has called for.

There’s a crucial lesson here: When organizations knowingly mislead their constituents and purposefully work them up into an irrational lather in order to raise money or increase their organization’s visibility, they need to understand that not everyone who listens to them is in on the scam. Some people take it seriously—too seriously.