Americans For Prosperity (AFP) has been running ads against network neutrality in Mike Doyle's (D-PA) district in Pittsburgh. Doyle's response? A letter to FCC Chairman Genachowski telling him to ignore faux populist FUD from AFP, hold firm, and move full speed ahead to protect consumers while Congress takes up the work of updating the Communications Act for a more comprehensive approach.
Rep. Doyle's colleagues should learn from Doyle's example of how to respond when corporate interests dress up their agendas in populist clothing -- whether on net neutrality, financial reform, or any other issue where the first line of defense by the status quo is to shout catchphrases like "Socialism" and "Big Government" as loudly as possible.
Let me start by quoting at length from Rep. Doyle's letter:
As you may know, television broadcasters in my district are airing advertisements from a group called "Americans for Prosperity" suggesting that you are about to take over the Internet. As you definitely know, those allegations are untrue. Setting those ads' fear, uncertainty and doubt aside, I have heard from many constituents and small businesses in my district that are worried of having new and innovative business ideas restricted by a prospective customer's broadband provider. And at the Federal Communications Commission's field hearing on July 21, 2008 at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, several witnesses agreed that the Internet - and other communications networks - were only useful if people had access to them and used them. As the Commission's National Broadband Plan makes clear, more needs to be done to spur the deployment and promote the accessibility of open broadband networks for all consumers, including rural, low-income, and disabled Americans.
I have heard from stakeholders and constituents, from people on all sides of this debate. I have reviewed the Commission's recent National Broadband Plan, the relevant statutes, the DC Circuit's recent decision in Comcast v. FCC and your statements about the decision's fallout. And I have come to the conclusion that if the Federal Communications Commission is to enact those goals, then we are left with only two options that I believe must happen concurrently.
First, the FCC must reclassify residential broadband services as Title II - Telecommunications Services. Instead of taking us back to 1996-era regulations, you proposed that the FCC forbear from enforcing certain requirements under that law, including wholesaling requirements and price cap regulations. I am sure that you did not come to this decision lightly, and I hope that as the Commission decides which regulations to forbear and which to enforce, that you keep consumers in the front of your mind.
I want to draw attention to what makes this letter so good. In a few sentences, Doyle calls out AFP's claims for what they are without wasting time or spewing vitriol. He then clearly recounts his personal experience with his constituents. While these inform his decision, Doyle does not claim that "the people" want a particular action. Rather, as the person elected to represent them, he understands his job is to listen to their needs and concerns and figure out the best policy to meet those needs. That acknowledges that his constituents are not all one monolithic block, and that it is Doyle's job (and that of every elected official) to try to figure out the best course of action to deal with competing needs and conflicting concerns.
Having done that, Doyle leads, not follows. He says 'this is what my constituents tell me they need, so we're going to deliver.' He is here to solve problems, not be liked, and that's what he wants Genachowski to do.
Doyle's colleagues in Congress, and the Obama Administration generally, need to learn this lesson. They need to take to heart the lesson Obama learned the hard way in the health insurance reform fight. If you spend your time listening to a handful of angry protesters who see any effort to protect consumers and enforce accountability as "socialism," if you worry about every op ed written by industry-funded mouthpieces and weekly variations in approval numbers, you will get nothing done. Instead, as Doyle does here, and as Obama and the Democratic leadership finally did to get insurance reform and student loan reform done, you need to decide on what's right and fight to make it happen.
Democrats in particular need to learn that business front groups like Americans for Prosperity will wail, whine and shriek about how any effort to protect consumers is socialism in disguise -- and that the segment of the population convinced that Obama and the Democrats intend to institute a Worker's Paradise will always believe them and rally to the cause. As Paul Krugman explained in this op ed, our leaders in Washington need to recognize these fake populists for what they are. They need to go back to their FDR roots and welcome their hatred. Because, as even generally pro-business Washpo columnist Steven Pearlstein recently wrote, the common thread in recent disasters from the financial meltdown to the BP oil platform was the utter failure of federal regulators to their jobs. That, in turn, came from accepting industry assurances that nothing could possibly go wrong and swallowing malarkey that even a hint of regulation would deter investment, stifle innovation, and kill jobs.
Democrats know this. Obama knows this. His appointees know this. But they still find themselves paralyzed by the same choir singing the same old song about how Democrats are "out of the mainstream" and "the American people" oppose "Big Government." A few well placed op eds by some industry-funded mouthpieces and hardcore Free Market worshipers, a couple of bad nights on Fox News, a handful of nasty phone calls and faxes from Tea Party true believers who will repeat the same anti-government talking points whether the issue is network neutrality, healthcare, or climate change, and most Democrats still go into a nervous panic. If we want to undo the mistakes of the past and repair the damage that 8 years of idolatry to the Gods of the Marketplace have wrought, we need members of Congress and the Obama Administration to follow Rep. Mike Doyle's example.
I am the Legal Director of Public Knowledge, but the opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.