McLean, Va.— Democrats should think twice before using possible control of Congress next year to impose network-neutrality requirements on cable and phone broadband-access providers, former Clinton White House press secretary Mike McCurry said at an Internet policy forum last Tuesday.
“I worry that not enough Democrats really have thought hard about what it would mean to be the party that introduced the first complex regulatory scheme to the Internet,” said McCurry, addressing members of the Northern Virginia Technology Council.
McCurry — who said his views were aligned with the Clinton Administration’s deregulatory approach to the Internet — is co-chairman of the Hands Off the Internet coalition, funded by AT&T to help defeat federal network-neutrality legislation. AT&T has been trying to gain Federal Communications Commission approval of its $81 billion merger with BellSouth without conditions on the management of its broadband network.
Net neutrality, a difficult-to-define concept, can mean regulations that would ban broadband access providers from seeking payment from providers of Internet content and applications to ensure that their products receive priority treatment en route to computer users.
Proponents of net neutrality want network owners stopped from introducing a discriminatory pay-to-play system on the Internet, but McCurry said such a scheme would lead to a regulatory morass. “You’d have to create a broadband bureau at the FCC in order to purely define what we mean by nondiscrimination and net neutrality,” he said.
McCurry, who is hoping for a Democratic takeover of the House and Senate next year, said the imposition of net-neutrality requirements would serve to alienate business interests, resulting in a victory by the “Lamont-Feingold wing of the party, which is in some ways deeply hostile to business,” over moderate Democrats who reached out to business interests for support.
“As a matter of politics, I worry about whether we’re going to become the anti-business party and cede that argument to the Republicans,” he added.
Google's Washington counsel Alan Davidson, who shared the dais with McCurry, disagreed that net neutrality had been embraced mainly by Democrats.
“It may be convenient to try to paint this as a highly partisan issue embraced by the liberal left, but I don’t think that’s really an accurate description,” McCurry said. “Our belief is that openness and competition on the Internet is a value that’s shared by Republicans and Democrats.”