Don't count out net neutrality in Donald Trump's America just yet

net neutrality donald trump rushkoff internet 10
Jamelle Bouie/Flickr
On Friday Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States. No doubt there’s significant questions as to what exactly this means for both domestic and foreign policy, and some of those questions involve the tech industry.

Net neutrality is one of those issues. Since becoming the official policy of the FCC in 2015 after several fits and starts, it has been a favorite target of Republican ire, based on the claim it hinders investment in broadband and internet. President-elect Donald Trump apparently isn’t a fan either, calling it a “top-down power grab” in a December 2014 tweet.

But as with many of Trump’s social media ramblings — especially on Twitter — the tweet is vague and open to interpretation. Since then, Trump has said little on the subject, but has made a vow to “eliminate our most intrusive regulations” a campaign promise.

Outgoing FCC chairman Tom Wheeler seemed to push back on Republican criticism of net neutrality last week during his final public speech at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of The Aspen Institute. “What some describe as ‘free market economics’ cannot mean simply freeing incumbents of their responsibilities,” he argued. “A hands-off approach to network oversight is more than a shift in direction, it is a decision to remove rights and move backward.”

Small business benefits most

Herein could like how net neutrality survives a Trump presidency. Trump himself has made a big deal out of promoting small business growth, and startup tech companies stand to gain the most from an official net neutrality position.

Upstart broadband providers might be best served by lobbying Trump directly to leave the regulations alone, or at least mostly intact. There’s some evidence that this might work, as the president-elect’s FCC transition team is not uniformly publicly opposed to the concept.

Republic Wireless co-founder David Morken was appointed to the transition team last month, and had earlier expressed concern about the direction of earlier FCC picks. “Traditional Republican telecom policy has favored incumbents who are heavily engaged in regulatory capture over innovators like us,” he told the Wall Street Journal in early December.

Reading between the lines

Indeed, if you attempt to analyze Trump’s 2014 net neutrality tweet, it seemed more directed out of a fear that President Obama would somehow silence his critics, rather than the true spirit of the policy itself. “Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media,” he quipped. That suggests a belief that it would be used in ways it was not intended, nor written for.

Net neutrality also has benefits for the bigger tech companies. Wheeler pointed in his speech to DirecTV Now as a prime example. AT&T is not put at a disadvantage when its streaming TV service is streamed over broadband lines owned by Comcast, Cox, or Charter — obvious competitors.

“One only has to remember the interconnection and porting debates that hindered the access of over-the-top video providers pre-Open Internet rule to appreciate the importance of an open Internet to everyone — even its opponents,” he added.

There are some big players in the fight to save net neutrality, which means it won’t go away easily. Netflix’s co-founder Reed Hastings is one of the biggest names, though publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton in the summer of 2016. Amazon too has been involved, but its founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has been one of Trump’s biggest critics in the tech world.

That means that if net neutrality is to survive in any form, support for it will need to come from the folks who Trump says he’s most focused on to “Make America Great Again,” namely small business.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


From Jay Rock to Saba, these are the 50 best albums of 2018

We've spent the year listening to new albums, digging deep, and culling our master list into 50 favorites. From blockbuster releases to hidden gems, these are the best albums of 2018.

5G’s arrival is transforming tech. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this winter with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Killing Eve'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

Smartphone makers are vomiting a torrent of new phones, and we’re sick of it

Smartphone manufacturers like Huawei, LG, Sony, and Motorola are releasing far too many similar phones. The update cycle has accelerated, but more choice is not always a good thing.

Do we even need 5G at all?

Faster phones, easier access to on-demand video, simpler networking -- on the surface, 5G sounds like a dream. So why is it more of a nightmare?
Home Theater

The Apple AirPods 2 needed to come out today. Here are four reasons why

Apple announced numerous new products at its October 30 event, a lineup that included a new iPad Pro, a MacBook Air, as well as a new Mac Mini. Here are four reasons we wish a new set of AirPods were on that list.

Razer’s most basic Blade 15 is the one most gamers should buy

Razer's Blade 15 is an awesome laptop for both gamers, streamers, professionals, and anyone else needing serious go in a slim profile, but its price is out of reach for many games. The new Blade 15 Base solves that problem with few…

Going to hell, again. The Switch makes 'Diablo 3' feel brand-new

I've played every version of Diablo 3 released since 2012, racking up hundreds of hours in the process. Six years later, I'm playing it yet again on Nintendo Switch. Somehow, it still feels fresh.

‘Fallout 76’ may have online multiplayer but it’s still a desolate wasteland

"Is Fallout 76 an MMO?" That depends on who you ask. Critics and players often cite its online multiplayer capabilities as a reason it qualifies. Yet calling the game an MMO only confuses matters, and takes away from what could make…
Digital Trends Live

Microsoft has #*!@ed up to-do lists on an epic scale

Microsoft has mucked up to-do lists on a scale you simply can’t imagine, a failure that spans multiple products and teams, like a lil’ bit of salmonella that contaminates the entire output from a factory.

As Amazon turns up the volume on streaming, Spotify should shudder

Multiple players are all looking to capitalize on the popularity of streaming, but it has thus far proved nearly impossible to make a profit. Could major tech companies like Amazon be primed for a streaming take-over?

Throw out the sandbox. ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ is a fully realized western world

Despite featuring around 100 story missions, the real destination in Red Dead Redemption 2 is the journey you make for yourself in the Rockstar's open world, and the game is better for it.

‘Diablo Immortal’ is just the beginning. Mobile games are the future

Diablo fans were furious about Diablo Immortal, but in truth, mobile games are the future. From Apple and Samsung to Bethesda and Blizzard, we’re seeing a new incentive for games that fit on your phone.