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Political reality check for net neutrality in a Democratic Congress


Conventional wisdom among net neutrality proponents is that a new Democratic Congress is good for net neutrality. Proponents point to the fact that the Senate Commerce Committee vote was 11-11 and two of the Senators that voted “noâ€? (Allen VA and Burns MT) were defeated in the election. They also point to the fact that Ed Markey, a big net neutrality supporter, is now Chairman of the Telecom Subcommittee the subcommittee that defeated his net neutrality amendment last year. They also point to the fact that Speaker-elect Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader elect Reid are also big net neutrality supporters. Those are the positives and they are real and significant, but are they enough?   

So what are the negatives for supporters of net neutrality?

  • First, A new Congress is a complete reset. They have to start again from ground zero. That’s hard, real hard. That’s the reason hundreds of bills get introduced and only a precious few make it into law.
  • Second, there is no vehicle. Last year the net neutrality issue popped up out of nowhere because there was a vehicle, the franchise reform bill, with major industry locomotion behind it. Net neutrality rode on the coat tails of another issue.
  • Third, on its own as a standalone bill, it will be very difficult to move far because it will have to provide its own locomotion, which is very hard, and it will have to overcome determined industry opposition which is very hard as everyone was reminded by what happened in the Senate with net neutrality this past year.
  • Fourth, the new Democratic Congress has “much bigger fish to fryâ€? than net neutrality. They have Iraq, health care, prescription drugs, taxes, minimum wage, oversight hearings with a view to the 2008 Presidential election… and many other big hot button issues. Net neutrality in the scheme of things will practically fall into third or fourth tier Democratic priorities at best.
  • In the House, Chairman Markey will have to get the conservative Democrats and Black Caucus to flip on net neutrality, not impossible but tough.
  • In the Senate, they will have the same problem the majority had this past year, they will need 60 votes to win in the Senate. The Democrats impressively went from 45 to 51 Senate majority, but that is still a long way from 60 votes.
  • Lastly, if net neutrality legislation got through both houses and got conferenced in a Presidential Election year -- they would likely have to overcome a veto against President Bush who would have little incentive to play ball on an issue his Adminstration strongly opposes.

The Democrats won the Congress. However, net neutrality will still have to survive the normal brutal gauntlet of the legislative process.

·Â Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚  It will also soon dawn on Democrats that just as they used net neutrality to thwart progress in a Republican Congress, the Republicans can use net neutrality as an obstacle to thwart progress in a Democratic Congress.

·Â Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚  The old adage is true: a knife cuts both ways.