*Featured in Forbes, Roslyn Layton
With the 2018 midterm elections behind us, voters decided that Capitol Hill will return to two-party rule. These situations can spell gridlock with little to no expectation for major legislation making it to the President's desk-or political opportunity. In fact, far more potential exists between the two political parties on comprehensive technology policy than may be realized or admitted, leaving the door open to legislative achievements in 2019 that would enjoy broad political consensus and voter support.
There has perhaps been no issue more contentious in the technology landscape over the last decade than the concept of "net neutrality". Many Americans and businesses today share in the belief that an open and free internet is critical to improved quality of life, economic opportunity and social justice. They're right, and Congress has an obligation to craft bipartisan legislation that would preserve these fundamental values and ensure our internet is accessible by all and a continued catalyst to historic 21 st Century innovation.
Unfortunately, there remain groups motivated by other interests. Under the guise of activism, some groups have latched on to the confusing and controversial topic of net neutrality to drive fundraising, and they will go as far as disrupting meaningful legislative opportunities by organizing over-the-top stunts and sowing polarization and inaction on the issue. A case in point is today's "Day of Action", yet another political manipulation by telling people "to flood members of Congress with 7 advocacy correspondence" - much of which includes verbatim language crafted by the sophisticated, well-funded organizations behind the effort.
Rather than promoting sensible internet protections through legislation (the way 50 nations of the world have already done), these groups champion increasingly extreme, public-utility-style regulations born out of Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. Messages generated by the "Day of Action" not only contribute to the paralysis of Congress by further polarizing representatives; they also push excessive regulations like Title II (note: not net neutrality, like many argue) that compromise investment and harm the American innovation that we should be protecting. Indeed the rules and statutes they advocate do not even contain the term "net neutrality".
Going into the midterm elections, perhaps the biggest champion of Title II in the House of Representatives was Congressman Mike Doyle who introduced a procedure known as a Congressional Review Act (CRA) that would attempt to restore outdated Title II regulations. But, with the vitriolic midterms over and political realities settling back into place, Rep. Doyle admitted earlier this month that his resolution, "just doesn't have the kind of the push it would need to get us over the top" and that "[...] this lame duck's going to be dealing with a lot of things that are probably going to take precedence."
Rep. Doyle's CRA resolution needs 218 signatures to secure a December 10 vote. The resolution currently remains at 178 following a late addition by Rep. Joe Morelle (D-NY) on November 28.
Demonstrating passion and advocacy around important issues is a core tenet of American democracy. It is what makes the United States an attractive and hopeful place to billions around the globe. However, when these efforts become increasingly partisan and shortsighted, we must proceed with caution. The House CRA that would forcibly bring back Title II regulation through an extreme partisan avenue is dangerous and only diminishes our nation's ability to craft and enact constructive technology policy that reflects both sides of the aisle and promotes transparency, equality and long-term efficacy.
As our lives grow further entwined with technology, it only becomes more important for Congress to act on major technology policy. However, politicians must be willing to stop using issues like net neutrality as a wedge for political expediency and polarization. With a sensible and bipartisan approach, legislators can enact landmark policies on today's leading technology issue-even in the divided 116 th Congress. Let's hope they have the wisdom to disregard the uninformed bluster.
An American abroad, Roslyn Layton studies evidence-based policy for the information, communications, and digital technology industries with the goal to maximize welfare for consumers and taxpayers.