Democrats want to turn net neutrality into the next GOP health-care debacle


Now that federal regulators have released their official proposal to repeal the government’s net neutrality rules, Democrats are vowing, Churchill-style, to fight that measure in the courts, at the Federal Communications Commission and in the realm of public opinion. Sensing they’ve hit on a white-hot campaign issue, liberals are seeking to stir up a grass-roots firestorm around net neutrality that can thwart the GOP plan — or at least make it incredibly costly for Republicans to support.

DemocratsDemocrats argue that conservatives want to strip consumers of key online protections and hand more power back to large Internet providers, and liken the issue to another hot-button topic: former president Obama’s health-care law.

“The more the public understands about what the Trump administration is trying to do to net neutrality, they’ll understand that it’s the same thing they’re trying to do to the Affordable Care Act, to the Clean Air Act, to gun safety laws — and net neutrality is just another part of the very same story,” said Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

The Republican-led FCC has proposed to roll back landmark regulations for Internet providers. The rules were passed in 2015 to protect consumers, making it illegal for Internet providers to block, slow or charge websites extra fees. The industry has opposed the regulations — arguing that the rules prevent them from finding new ways of making money, and from upgrading their networks to give consumers better speeds and more reliable service.

As a right-wing effort to repeal the net neutrality rules has ramped up, liberals are now pulling from the same playbook they used to oppose the House GOP’s widely unpopular health-care bill, the American Health Care Act. Although Republicans ultimately pushed that legislation through the House, Democrats sought to turn every yes-vote into an act of political suicide. Liberals were so confident the bill would doom Republicans in 2018, they even chanted “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye” as the legislation won enough votes to pass. Sure enough, some lawmakers have gone home to face hostile town hall meetings with constituents outraged over the AHCA.

By raising the issue of net neutrality to the level of health care, Democrats such as Markey appear to believe they’re in for similar victories on net neutrality. The decision reflects a doubling-down on liberals’ populist strategy — and it reflects how deeply they are convinced the public is already on their side.

“I just don’t think [Republicans] understand the ferocity of the resistance that they’re about to encounter,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told reporters earlier this month. A few dozen demonstrators outside the FCC last week also seemed to gesture at that approach — blasting classic rock, carrying banners and blocking visitors from entering the building by creating a “slow zone” that they said was analogous to the future Internet providers wanted to build. The protest got the Democratic seal of approval when Markey and Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), an outspoken critic of digital surveillance, clambered out of black SUVs to join in.