Non-partisan tech policy think-tank responds to most partisan tech issue

By: Rebeca Berger

Tech policy is one of the few remaining areas of legislation that tends to have bipartisan support. For the most part, people can agree that they need high-speed, open wireless connection on every device everywhere they go.

But according to Evan Schwarztrauber, the Communications Director at TechFreedom, a non-profit, non-partisan tech policy think-tank based in Washington, D.C., there is one area of tech policy that continues to put a strain on the otherwise collaborative efforts across party lines.

“When you look at what’s happened with tech policy over two years, net neutrality has been a massive impediment to bipartisan cooperation on other issues, cause everyone’s in their corners and no one wants to talk to each other,” Schwarztrauber said. “It used to be a very bipartisan area of policy. A lot of things still are, like spectrum policy and broadband deployment and next-generation television. Net neutrality is the most partisan issue. And we want to see this resolved because it creates uncertainty for businesses. It creates uncertainty for consumers.”

TechFreedom’s solution to the net neutrality debate is legislation bipartisan compromise in Congress, which is very similar to the views of current Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai.

Schwarztrauber explained TechFreedom’s reasoning behind this solution.

“For the same reason that Pai can undo Title II at the FCC level and then have a future Democratic administration reinstate it, the same reason how [Tom] Wheeler can do [so much] and have it be so easily threatened by a change in power at the White House, I think this is proving our point that communications policies should not be a pendulum that swings back between whoever holds the White House,” he said.

Title II refers to the segment of the Communications Act of 1934 that discusses common carriers. The current question is whether or not Internet Service Providers should be classified into this category.

Many of these issues were confronted in the FCC’s Wednesday morning hearing with the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which covered every aspect of the agency and major policy issues.

During the hearing, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., voiced his feelings about wanting to preserve net neutrality because of the amount of economic investment that has gone into it.

“The Census Bureau reported that the U.S. Broadband and Telecommunications Industry spent over $87 billion dollars in capital expenditures in 2015. Meanwhile, last year, almost half of all venture capital funds invested in this country went towards Internet-specific and software companies. And yesterday, over 170 organizations sent a letter calling on the FCC to promote economic growth and preserve competition by maintaining the open Internet order,” he said.

In addition to his personal beliefs, Markey said he prioritizes public interest over special interest.

“I’m going to fight very hard to protect those privacy rules that are now on the books and I’m going to fight very hard to protect net neutrality. And believe me, the four million Americans who communicated the last round on these open Internet issues, are just going to be dwarfed by the number of people out there who are going to be concerned if privacy and competition rules [and] open Internet rules are taken off the books,” he said.

Just as the hearing ended, think-tanks like TechFreedom are already ready to respond with action plans to negotiate a compromise.

In the coming months, TechFreedom will be working to push bipartisan legislation compromise for net neutrality, for which they have support from Pai and Sen. John Thune, R-SD, who is also chairman of the committee. In the meantime, Schwarztrauber said, look out for the FCC to put an item on this to start the process of rolling back Title II.

Schwarztrauber said anyone who plays video games, or who has struggled with a FaceTime call, or has ever used the Internet, should be invested in this issue. He said people definitely notice when their services don’t work well, but they just get frustrated with it instead of talking about how to ensure that what they are paying for is working properly.

“Everyone wants the Internet to be open and free. The question is: what role does government play? I think we can all agree on some basic principles, that we need to protect consumers without sacrificing innovation. That’s a balancing act, we can get it done, we can have both,” he said.

“And to the extent that we can resolve this issue of the FCC’s legal authority [and] clarify that in a law that lasts longer than one administration—that’s what we should be all about here. And when we resolve net neutrality, we can get on to those things like spectrum [and] broadband deployment.”

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