It is unfortunate, but true, that it would appear Congress is edging toward a partisan debate on the issue of net neutrality. Why should such a complex and multifaceted issue like this turn into a partisan squabble?

It is unfortunate, but true, that it would appear Congress is edging toward a partisan debate on the issue of net neutrality. Why should such a complex and multifaceted issue like this turn into a partisan squabble?

It shouldn’t, of course. Things in Washington have devolved to the point where decisions on what position should be taken on any given issue have all too often been based on the position of "the other guy" or overt efforts to court interest groups. Thus, partisanship has moved from providing strong support for an idea or view to simply being a consensus of one group versus another group, in this case, Democrats and Republicans.

That’s too bad, since policy issues like net neutrality should be considered in far more nuanced detail than is likely to happen. The cable industry favors net neutrality. We oppose efforts to block or edit access to any website. We have taken that position for years. On the other hand, we are opposed to net regulation if that regulation includes the government defining how the technology can be used, advance or evolve.

We don’t want to block access to websites, but we also don’t want the government inadvertently getting in the way of technical progress that would allow us to guarantee priority treatment and delivery of certain data, emergency medical information, or emergency first-responder communications, for example. Why would anyone want to foreclose advanced delivery options for emergency and business uses, so long as regular service was assured on a nondiscriminatory basis?

Of course, partisans will say that enhancement of delivery of any sort of data will by the nature of the beast mean that everything else is somehow disadvantaged. That’s not necessarily true. When the U.S. Postal Service started offering next-day Express Mail, the result was the whole system became more efficient, and all mail got through faster.

Never mind that, though. It appears we are in for a partisan wrangle among those who have taken positions based not on policy considerations but instead on political appearances and convenience. It reminds me of the Consumer Federation decision to support must-carry and retransmission consent, which is now costing consumers hundreds of millions of dollars for "free TV." How, exactly, those partisans for consumers can justify that is beyond me, but that’s the way Washington works these days.

A former FCC attorney and president of CATA, Steve Effros is a columnist and consultant in the cable television industry. He can be reached at steve@effros.com.

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