One thing that Barack Obama did during his presidency that gets him some criticism from his detractors and fans alike, is he issued a very large number of executive orders to get things done.
In his defense, not once during his eight-year tenure did he get the support of a single Republican member of congress for his initiatives. When the democrats had a slim majority for the first two years of his first term, he got some things (like the ACA and the fixes to the financial crisis). After that, everything other than simple procedural votes and the budget came to a grinding halt.
Everything else, if Obama wanted to accomplish something, he had to do it via executive order.
The thing about executive orders, is that any order that one president can do, the next one can overturn. There’s been a ping-pong game among presidents going back to Reagan with regard to what’s known as the “gag rule”, which dictates whether or not foreign agencies receiving US assistance can talk about options related to an unwanted pregnancy.
I want to talk specifically about one executive order from 2015, commonly known as “net neutrality”.
At issue in this particular topic is whether or not broadband internet access can or should qualify as a utility (like the phone lines, electric lines, gas lines, etc.). If it does, then it can be regulated as such under the terms of the Federal Communications Commission.
There are two legitimate sides to this debate.
On the one hand, we have the content providers. We don’t want the internet service providers to decide who gets to view which web pages. At its most innocent, the ISP’s could charge an exorbitant fee to allow you to watch The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt on Netflix. At worst, ISP’s could restrict access to news and information that’s either critical of them or the politicians they support. In other words, just because the government can’t censor content, private industry sure can.
One the other hand, we have the ISP’s. They argue, not entirely inaccurately, that overregulation is will do nothing but stifle innovation (either in the short or longer term) and, hypothetically, prevent everyone from getting faster and more reliable internet service. If ISP’s are just regulated to prevent monopolies and similar unfair trade practices, that would be in the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission, not the FCC.
So what about someone like me? Outside of this blog, I’m not a content provider (and this one little-read blog doesn’t really qualify as much of anything other than to serve as an outlet for my own thoughts and the few people who actually read my words). I make no money off of this blog and I have no expenses related to it (unless you count the fact that, about a week ago, I had a one-time expense of $25.00 to upgrade the software I use to compose these blog entries.
What I care about, then, is having the most up-to-date technology to provide my broadband access while at the same time not being restricted in what I can see when I do go online.
Those who would spread fear about the implications of a decision to repeal net neutrality aren’t entirely off-base. The people who have money and power don’t want an informed populace. This is nothing new. After all, the Catholic Church opposed the use of the printing press more than 600 years ago, because they knew that an educated populace could spell trouble for the power they sustained. (And, when you consider what happened basically a century later, they weren’t wrong…
A few years ago, there was a study that held that people who watch Fox News are less well-informed than people who don’t watch the news at all. What would happen if the ISPs decided that this was the only acceptable source of “news”?
The main saving grace on this point, is that this can’t and won’t happen too quickly not for technological reasons but instead for logistical reasons. The ISPs know that if they just shut off access to unfavorable news sources, they’d face such a massive backlash they’d effectively undermine their own arguments.
So what appears to be inevitable, is that when a republican administration comes in, they’ll repeal net neutrality regulations, and when a democratic administration comes in, they’ll reinstate them.
This is no way to run a country. The real solution is not regulatory; it’s legislative.
In 2010, republicans retook control of congress and followed a policy of obstruction, which they have continued up until this year.
What we’re seeing now, with the republicans in charge of both congress and the White House, is that they don’t actually know how to govern. Ignoring their actual positions on, well, anything, and without regard to whether you approve of or agree with those positions, they’re not really accomplishing what they would otherwise want to do.
So there’s little hope of getting a legislative solution in the short term. I should hope that, if the punditry is accurate in their predictions of 2018 being a wave election year, (a prediction bolstered by the special election in Alabama the other day), then maybe we can hope for a real solution in time for the next presidential election.