US Senate

Here it is. Your Moment of Zen

Bob Menendez is done. The once powerful chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is now a back bencher, under indictment, and may or may not serve out the rest of his term which ends after the 2018 election.

What are the desired characteristics of a successor? He or she should be to the left of center politically to match the sentiment of New Jersey’s blue state voting bloc. Our next U.S. senator should be someone who is well-known and well-connected to donors who can provide the necessary funds to fuel an aggressive election campaign. Ideally, he or she should be disconnected from the political patronage machines that are pervasive in New Jersey politics.

One such person, who appears that he will have some time on his hands, is the recently-departed host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart. While there’s a lot we don’t know about him beyond his television persona, his intellect, wit, and probing interview style demonstrate he has the capacity to join Al Franken as a comedian-turned-statesman in the U.S. Senate.

If Stewart decides on a political career as his next life experience, how should he run? As a Democrat? Or as an Independent?

Net Neutrality and New Jersey

No matter what you think about (or how you choose to define) “net neutrality” we should all agree that the fate of the Internet should not be left in the hands of unelected bureaucrats at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In a hallmark 3-2 vote on partisan lines, the FCC imposed sweeping new rules on the Internet. The agency unilaterally changed what has become part of just about everyone’s personal, academic, governmental, or business life from a relatively lightly regulated “Information Service” (known as a “Title I” service) to a very heavily regulated “Communications Service” (“Title II” of the Telecommunications Act).

Title II is a regulatory classification originally intended for use on the telegraph and rotary telephones. You don’t have to check Reddit to know that the telegraph isn’t as big a deal as it was 150 years ago…Unfortunately the Internet is now on this regulated path. Under the same regulatory regime as these outdated devices, Internet based innovation and job creation will be stuck in a never ending traffic jam.

For the last two decades, the Internet has been governed by a lighter regulatory system established by legislation in the 1990s. Former President Bill Clinton and the Republican-led Congress at the time knew that in order for small businesses and tech start-ups to receive the investments necessary to build out the vast broadband networks, they would need to have the confidence that regulators would keep an eye on things, and step in only if necessary.

The FCC’s recent action leaves this open environment in shambles.

I’m not alone in voicing my concerns with the current path as various groups such as the NAACP, the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC), and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce all view the FCC’s switch to Title II as extraordinarily harmful. New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the entire country and with all of the complications associated with Title II, we have to take a closer look at the real impact these new rules will have on our communities. These groups are joined by various other stakeholders who understand that the increased regulatory burden of Title II will have an adverse impact on broadband job creation and expand the already growing digital divide. Also, as we are all well aware, when it comes to new regulations (pension plans) government overhauls often have unforeseen consequences on the “little guy.”

All in all, despite the FCC’s good intentions in crafting Net Neutrality rules, we have to realize we might just be giving up more than we bargained for.

So what can we do for Net Neutrality?  The answer is simple. We need Congress to step up once again and write a law that clearly defines the FCC’s role, responsibilities, and limitations as they pertain to the Internet. I’m sure Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is well aware of draft bills that can solve all of the harms of Title II. We need to encourage him and the rest of his Washington colleagues that Net Neutrality should be the law of the land.

We’ve gone from dial-up speeds to gigabyte speeds through a few short years of open competition established through bipartisan efforts. I hope Congressman Pallone will use his influence to weigh in on this issue and put Internet policy back into the hands of those who are elected by the people.