GOP lobbyists push extension of net neutrality principles to Big Tech

GOP lobbyists push extension of net neutrality principles to Big Tech

February 3, 2021

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GOP activists are strategizing on ways to combat what they believe is Big Tech's anti-conservative bias. One idea quietly gaining ground: Extend so-called net neutrality rules beyond telecom companies and make them applicable to technology companies as well, FOX Business has learned.

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Now that companies like the conservative social media app Parler contend with being removed by Amazon’s web services and being dropped by Apple’s App Store, GOP activists see this as a call to arms. These Republican insiders interviewed by FOX Business say they have approached GOP  lawmakers about possibly passing legislation that would create a more inclusive net neutrality proposal.

They believe the rules — if enacted by Congress and signed into law — would make it more difficult for companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Twitter to ban conservative voices from various social media and tech platforms.

Net neutrality involves a set of rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during the Obama administration that essentially treated internet service providers and cable companies like public utilities, and subjected them to various rules preventing the prioritization of certain types of content. Net neutrality would prevent a company like AT&T from making content it owns, like HBO, quicker to access or slowing down access to companies it competes with, like Netflix.

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Most of the rules were repealed by the Trump administration's FCC chief Ajit Pai, a free-market conservative, who argued that the measures were an anti-competitive insertion of government into private business dealings between competing companies. But with Democrats controlling Congress and now the White House, most telecom executives and GOP activists expect some sort of net neutrality rules to be enforced by the Biden administration’s FCC.

GOP activists and lobbyists interviewed by FOX Business concede legislation that would extend net neutrality rules to Big Tech is a long shot given the current makeup of Congress. Still, they believe they can start a debate on the matter that could focus the public's attention on what they believe is the tech industry's stifling of conservative voices.

“If Democrats want to talk about net neutrality, they’re going to have to include Big Tech,” says one former FCC official. "It has to be a holistic conversation.”

Trump and many conservatives have long complained about Big Tech censoring speech on its platforms through various measures such as "shadow banning (restricting a user’s visibility on the platform) and placing warning labels on what social media companies consider controversial opinions. Executives at many Big Tech outfits are progressives and some open supporters of left-leaning policies.

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The outrage from the right reached new heights with the removal of Parler and then Twitter and Facebook banning several controversial conservatives including former President Trump from posting on their platforms.

The tech companies counter that the bans were not made in haste and were necessary. They also followed reviews of the content under scrutiny from politicians and the conservative press.

Parler, the tech companies contend, is riddled with conspiracy theories and hate speech. Trump’s Twitter and Facebook accounts were permanently suspended after his controversial rally in Washington D.C. last month resulted in an angry mob attacking the U.S. Capitol and five people being killed.

Still, conservative activists say the total bans of such voices are unfair, particularly given the fact that Twitter and Facebook allow controversial dictators such as  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, access to their platforms. With that, they've been lobbying GOP members on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation — the committee with jurisdiction on these matters — about introducing legislation to extend net neutrality to Big Tech.

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A spokeswoman for the committee declined to comment, but would not deny that members are exploring expanded net neutrality as a way to rein in Big Tech.

But even some Republicans may be hesitant to mount an attack against Big Tech through an expansion of government. Many conservatives, for instance, have opposed repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that provides technology companies what's known as a safe harbor—meaning they are not responsible for what's posted on their platforms. These conservatives worry it will set a precedent of government intervention in a major and successful U.S. industry.

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“It’s always really difficult to pass legislation, even under the best of circumstances,” said Robert McDowell, a former FCC commission and currently a partner at Cooley LLC. “On top of that add into the mix that Congress is effectively split 50-50, and that’s the perfect recipe for absolutely nothing to happen.”

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