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By Backing Net Neutrality, Obama Delivers Blow to Corporate Giveaways

Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Monday, President Barack Obama effectively endorsed “net neutrality”—the idea that Internet providers should treat all content equally, without giving or selling preferential treatment to some. In doing so, Obama has picked a big fight with corporate lobbyists—and created a stark contrast with the Republican Party. 

Net neutrality can seem like a fairly technical issue. After all, the policy fight is over exactly how the Federal Communications Commission defines Internet companies: Are they mainly in the business of transmitting content or creating it? The answer determines how much leeway corporations like Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner, and AT&T—all of which have built and control the infrastructure of online communication—have to discriminate against some content providers or Internet users.  

The basic principles are less complicated. As John Judis writes over at The New Republic, the basic issue at the heart of net neutrality is "whether government can force megaliths like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T to act in the public interest." Doing so inevitably sets up a conflict. On one side are powerful lobbyists for those giant companies: They oppose net neutrality because they would like to charge users and limit access however they'd like. On the other side are public interest groups and their allies. They believe that the only way to keep the internet just as it is—as a competitive free market—is to regulate it, so that a handful of companies can’t control it at the expense of consumers. This is the side Obama has taken, and he captured their philosophy with his statement, "We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas." 

Republicans take a different view. Congressional Republicans have almost unanimously voted to overturn net neutrality proposals and refused to support Democrats' Open Internet Preservation Act. Yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz quipped that net neutrality was “Obamacare for the Internet,” while House Speaker John Boehner described Obama’s endorsement of net neutrality as “a textbook example of the kind of Washington regulations that destroy innovation and entrepreneurship." Boehner’s statements are consistent with conservative philosophy, which preaches that even well-intentioned regulations do more harm than good. What Boehner does not say is that net neutrality is also consistent with Republican Party behavior, which is frequently about pleasing corporate interests. 

Of course, both parties cater to donors and lobbyists—a point that Senator Mike Lee made. “The easiest bipartisan measures to pass are almost always bills that directly benefit Big Business,” Lee wrote, “and thus appeal to the corporatist establishments of both parties. In 2015, this ‘low-hanging fruit’ we’ll hear about will be items like corporate tax reform, Obamacare’s medical device tax, patent reform, and perhaps the Keystone XL pipeline approval.”

Lee is right: The list of items that the Obama and the Republicans might actually pass this year consists almost exclusively of items that business support. But the net neutrality episode is a reminder that Democrats, like Obama, also take strong stands against big business from time to time—and Republicans rarely do.

Rebecca Leber

News from yesterday 

OBAMACARE: Open enrollment for 2015 plans begins this week, but the Obama Administration is hedging its bets. With more people allowed to keep their old plans—and the uninsured hard to reach—the Administration has lowered its projection for how many people will sign up this year. (Robert PearNew York Times)

EBOLA: Craig Spencer, the New York doctor diagnosed with Ebola, is scheduled to leave Bellevue Hospital Center Tuesday morning, Ebola-free. (Shimon Prokupecz, CNN)

CHINA: Obama is in Beijing this week, and among the initiatives he is pushing for is leadership from the Chinese in combating greenhouse gas pollution. This week could be crucial to a broader climate change agreement. (Josh Gerstein, Politico)  

ALEC: AOL becomes the latest tech company (of many) to ditch the conservative group, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Unlike other companies that cited its climate change denial, AOL gave no reason. (Dustin Volz, National Journal) 

CIVIL RIGHTS: Obama announced he is giving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously, to three Civil Rights workers murdered by KKK members in 1964. (Jerry Mitchell, Jackson Clarion-Ledger)

Articles worth reading 

McConnell's missionPaul Waldman argues that the key question in the 114th Congress is whether McConnell can convince the Tea Party to chip away at Obamacare instead of trying to use arcane budget rules to do it right away. (Plum Line)

Right on trade. Some conservatives are criticizing Obama's free trade proposals as "Obamatrade" but the media shouldn't assume all of the right feels this way. Most Tea Party politicians support the two trade deals. (Scott Lincicome and Bill Watson, The Federalist)

Unnecessary freakouts. The speed limit on many New York City streets fell from 30 mph to 25 mph Monday. People aren't happy. (Emily Badger, Wonkblog)

City blazing. Instead of arresting people founding possessing pot in New York City, police will issue tickets and court summons. (German Lopez, Vox) 

Going to the dogs. A woman volunteers with a humane society in Ohio and comes across a challenging case where negligence of the family dog suggests how a single dad may be treating his son. (Sharona MuirNew York Times)

What we’re watching 

How the FCC will respond to Obama’s net neutrality proposal. Obama is in China, where he is pressing on pollution, among other policies.


Brian Beutler and Jeffrey Rosen mull over how Chief Justice John Roberts will fall in the hot-button cases coming down the pipeline for the Supreme Court concerning gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act. Danny Vinik points out President Obama’s lack of clarity in the administration’s war on ISIS as Obama announced 1,500 troops would be sent to Iraq. And Rebecca lays out the five battles the Republicans are planning in their war on the EPA. 

Clips compiled by Naomi Shavin and Claire Groden