Why Obama should issue an executive order for net neutrality

President Barack Obama makes a point during a meeting with senior staff in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, May 18, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama makes a point during a meeting with senior staff in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, May 18, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Congressman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) apparently didn’t want to gamble on whether a federal appeals court will side with his pals in the telecom industry. Why not just put the brakes on the Federal Communications Commission right now with these net neutrality rules, and by the way, don’t pay attention to the $25,500 that the telecom industry donated to the Rogers re-election campaign. About that re-election campaign: does a congressman who is running unopposed in the general election for his 19th term in office really need $25,500 from anyone? Given that this is the second time in as many years that Republicans have made a play to neuter the FCC through a budget bill, President Barack Obama shouldn’t gamble either.

The time has come for him to take his support for net neutrality a step further and issue an executive order. The calculus is simple: Congress can’t help itself when it comes to undermining whatever Obama deems as a priority. It’s like they’re all chugging from a huge pitcher of the same Kool-Aid.  Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon did not invent the Internet. They don’t own the Internet either just as the plumbers of the world did not invent or own the water that flows through the pipes going into people’s homes. So why let the plumbers call the shots?

Thanks to another lawsuit filed against the FCC, known as the Citizens United decision, cable providers and telecom giants can hold a powerful sway over Congress through campaign donations. An executive order mandating a neutral net would be for the public good, it would level the playing field and designate the Internet for what it truly is – a public utility. It would also stop Congress dead in its tracks from tossing another lateral to large broadband and telecom companies flush with money for lobbying.

And it might stop some of the lawsuits that will continue after the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately weighs in on the lawsuit brought by Verizon, Comcast and other telecom companies that will keep trying to stamp out a net neutral world. Like with his executive order on immigration, Obama doesn’t have to decide everything. But he can stop some of the back door deals that are now possible. He can issue an executive order while apparently remaining pretty dang popular with us common folk. Keep in mind that these last two attempts to use a budget bill to upend the FCC’s authority came after more than 4 million people wrote to the independent agency in overwhelming support for a free and fair Internet. The FCC has already been taken to court twice by the telecom giants over net neutrality policies.

Sure, Congress could override an executive order for net neutrality by passing legislation against it. Obama could veto such a bill if it passed, but a Congressional override of an executive order is seen by some as nearly impossible. A supermajority vote would be needed, and such a vote would leave lawmakers vulnerable to criticism…and even, gasp, their constituents!

During this year’s presidential election cycle, Republicans have whined a lot about President Obama’s executive orders, but anyone with an Internet connection can figure out that his stats are lower than those of former presidents George W. Bush (291), Bill Clinton (364), Ronald Reagan (384) – all members of the triple-digit club. Even those numbers don’t even come close to Franklin Roosevelt (3,721) or Woodrow Wilson (1803). “Presidents have long exercised influence over enforcement to advance their policy and political agendas,” according to Kate Andrias, an assistant professor of law and a former special counsel to President Obama who wrote The President’s Enforcement Power for New York University Law Review.

Hmm, interesting…Perhaps Congress needs to be reminded by Obama that who controls a broadband connection isn’t simply about the conditions under a company transmits the latest House of Cards episode. It’s about providing unfettered educational opportunities for every child who can get some screen time, whether it’s in a public library or a local school. The spine of small businesses, start-ups in particular, are built thanks to an affordable and fair Internet. In a 2014 speech on the Senate floor, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders warned that if the FCC allows huge corporations to negotiate fast-lane deals, and limit free speech in the process, “then the Internet will eventually be sold to the highest bidder.” 

Isn’t that already happening?

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