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Romney Says No to “Net Neutrality”

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Source: League of Women Voters

The chances that government policy about the internet is going to decide who will win the U.S. presidential election are pretty slim. (I’ll leave it to others to consider the possible effect of recent videos posted on the internet.) But one of the clearest differences between Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama on the 14 top science questions facing the US has to do with the Internet, which is the subject of this week’s closer look.

Romney thinks the FCC’s rules promoting “net neutrality” are the fulfillment of a campaign promise that was made to “special interests.” Obama reiterates his support for an open internet, while listing all the  issues that compete for regulatory attention–from protection of intellectual property to cybersecurity to privacy.

Scientific American has repeatedly taken editorial positions in favor of net neutrality (see here and here for the latest). The most important thing to realize in this debate is that the internet is currently open and the net is already fairly neutral in the U.S. (You cannot say the same thing for China, which blocks the free flow of information using what Netizens call The Great Firewall of China.)

That open style has mostly been a result of historical accident, however.  Back in the days when most people accessed the internet over telephone dial-up connections, most people assumed the “common carrier” standard–which applied to telephones and the telegraph before it–applied to the new technology. In other words, a telephone company (or telegram company before it) is not allowed to route messages more quickly or more slowly on the basis of whether or not it agreed with the messages. For example, it could not charge Fox News a different rate for basic telephone service than CNN.

Once more and more people started accessing the internet over cable modems, however, the assumption that a common carrier standard applied to the Internet started to be questioned because cable companies, heretofore, were treated as private carriers and thus have not been subject to the common carrier standard.  Then in 2002, the FCC redefined broadband access to the Internet  as an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service” and there were multiple attempts to push aside the internet’s de facto common carrier nature (now being called net neutrality.)

By the way, the technology for affecting the flow of information based on its content is already in place–it’s in the routers that keep packets zipping around the planet–and keep pro-democracy information out of China or could keep anti-Muslim videos out of the Middle East.

Of  course, now that more and more people are accessing the Internet over cell phone networks, we have a whole other level of technology to consider.

But at heart, the issue is how to keep the internet free and open, which could well be another of the many substantive issues that are flying udner the radar that could get decided in this year’s elections.

Here’s the question and Romney’s response:

9. The Internet. The Internet plays a central role in both our economy and our society. What role, if any, should the federal government play in managing the Internet to ensure its robust social, scientific, and economic role?

Governor Romney’s response: It is not the role of any government to “manage” the Internet. The Internet has flourished precisely because government has so far refrained from regulating this dynamic and essential cornerstone of our economy. I would rely primarily on innovation and market forces, not bureaucrats, to shape the Internet and maximize its economic, social and scientific value.

Thanks to the non-governmental multi-stakeholder model, the Internet is — and always has been — open to all ideas and lawful commerce as well as bountiful private investment. Unfortunately, President Obama has chosen to impose government as a central gatekeeper in the broadband economy. His policies interfere with the basic operation of the Internet, create uncertainty, and undermine investors and job creators.

Specifically, the FCC’s “Net Neutrality” regulation represents an Obama campaign promise fulfilled on behalf of certain special interests, but ultimately a “solution” in search of a problem. The government has now interjected itself in how networks will be constructed and managed, picked winners and losers in the marketplace, and determined how consumers will receive access to tomorrow’s new applications and services. The Obama Administration’s overreaching has replaced innovators and investors with Washington bureaucrats.

In addition to these domestic intrusions, there are also calls for increased international regulation of the Internet through the United Nations. I will oppose any effort to subject the Internet to an unaccountable, innovation-stifling international regulatory regime. Instead, I will clear away barriers to private investment and innovation and curtail needless regulation of the digital economy.

President Obama’s response:

A free and open Internet is essential component of American society and of the modern economy. I support legislation to protect intellectual property online, but any effort to combat online piracy must not reduce freedom of expression, increase cybersecurity risk, or undermine the dynamic, innovative global Internet. I also believe it is essential that we take steps to strengthen our cybersecurity and ensure that we are guarding against threats to our vital information systems and critical infrastructure, all while preserving Americans’ privacy, data confidentiality, and civil liberties and recognizing the civilian nature of cyberspace.



Read the candidates’ answers to all 14 questions in full at either or

Election 2012 button used under Creative Commons license BY 2.0.

About the Author: Christine Gorman is the editor in charge of health and medicine features for SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. Follow on Twitter @cgorman.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Comments 28 Comments

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  1. 1. Bozobub 6:02 pm 09/21/2012

    “Route”, not “rout” ^^’ ,,,

    Link to this
  2. 2. idgarad 6:29 pm 09/21/2012

    What is this ‘reporter’ smoking?

    Isn’t Net Neutrality all about keeping the Internet unregulated and free? So let me get this straight. The way we get an unregulated free Internet is too… regulate… it?

    Wha… wa.. uhhh…. Would reforming and focusing on ISP businesses to ensure competition be more relevant; so ISPs that engage in traffic shaping run the risk of losing customers and letting the power rest with consumers? In pursuit of Net Neutrality who exactly do I want to have the power, the consumer… me… or the Government? That same government that gave us such wonders as George W Bush, Bill Clinton, and Obama? Yeah… I like less government and more choices. I think to secure the blessings of a Free Internet I think the correct choice of action is ensuring a lot of competition between Internet Providers, no government regulation. 1 point to Romney in this situation.

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  3. 3. Trafalgar 7:00 pm 09/21/2012

    Competition between internet providers? Where are you? No such thing exists here. Cable providers have a virtual monopoly in every area they are in, the only alternative is DSL (if you can get it, and they also have a virtual monopoly, I think), dial-up (not viable, but no monopolies), or satellite (useless for anything but web browsing due to excessive latency).

    Basically you have a choice between a cable monopoly, a DSL monopoly, or moving somewhere else and dealing with (potentially) different local monopolies.

    Link to this
  4. 4. sonoran 7:12 pm 09/21/2012

    idgarad, your market-based solution to solving the problem relies on a free and open market and competition between ISP’s, something which doesn’t really exist in the US.

    In addition to “net neurality” I’d like to see additional stipulations that ISP’s must divest any part of their business involved in content creation and wired infrastructure owners be forced to allow other ISP’s to license use of their infrastructure.

    Link to this
  5. 5. bobbygreen 9:39 pm 09/21/2012

    Protection from web sites that are filled with “Trojans” and viruses has to be implemented. I do not want any suppression of Bill of Rights freedoms. The idea is to protect the security of all Americans. The concept I have in mind is a form of anti-virus compliance, and as soon as the any site complies after being closed, it would be opened again. All activity would be a matter of public record. I am not implying that this is possible, but complete privacy and security is a worthy goal.

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  6. 6. LordDraqo 11:03 pm 09/21/2012

    Let’s see, you want the Federal Government to control the internet as long as they do not enact laws to prevent piracy and copyright infringement. Is that essentially what I am seeing?

    Link to this
  7. 7. Christine Gorman 11:32 pm 09/21/2012

    Right you are, Bozobub! Thanks.

    Link to this
  8. 8. bolafson 1:18 am 09/22/2012

    Like pretty much everything else he weighs in on he probably has no idea of the ramifications and in any rate he will change his opinion on about the same schedule as he changes his socks.

    Link to this
  9. 9. sethdayal 1:01 pm 09/22/2012

    Access to the “cloud” be it, Teevee, innernet, or voice should be a public utility regulated or publicly owned. Do you want to contract with the likes of ATT, Comcast, or Verizon for your power or water pipe?. No?.Then why are we so content to have multiple and inefficient pipe for “cloud” access?

    Link to this
  10. 10. Gatnos 3:21 pm 09/22/2012

    Duh, did the author actually read the candidates’ positions? Romney is for a free and open internet, free of government regulation, on the other hand Obama wants governemnt oversight and control, starting with intellectual rights, and ending…… wait there is no end to government oversight and control in anything they get involved with.

    Link to this
  11. 11. LarryW 5:55 pm 09/22/2012

    The idea free and open means no government is beyond absurd. Of course, regulation by government is required to preserve free and unregulated. To think otherwise simply means one knows nothing about how all and any functioning society works.

    There is no free and no openness anyone can point to that doesn’t require government involvement. Freedom requires a government, and requires the government to enforce those freedoms. It just doesn’t happen because it is some magical outcome of nature.

    Whatever freedom means, the real issue is always that my freedoms and your freedoms are always at odds. Freedom does not mean you can do anything you want. How are these limits to be enforced and by whom?

    Romney’s statement that he is in favor of a free and open internet, then following it with that statement that it means no government regulation, means someone besides the government is going to define the rules of access and content. Who do you think those “someones” are going to be?

    But, under no circumstances should you believe there won’t be rules and regulations imposed. Whatever those rules and regulations will be, they will be imposed in board rooms and in secret, and not by you. Good luck if you think that amounts to freedom.

    Link to this
  12. 12. jsobry 8:43 pm 09/22/2012

    Larry, bravo, a very clear concise and correct statement.
    Freedom exists because we the people stand up and protect each other’s freedom within the realm of the possible.

    Link to this
  13. 13. imautoparts 9:50 pm 09/22/2012

    We need to keep three agenda in mind at all times:

    1. Human rights for all people, whether gay straight, or even accused of terrorism

    2. The internet – warts and all, as a sacred “free zone” of information, commerce and life

    3. Peace. Peace at any price.

    I’m voting for Obama, but he hasn’t fully come out in favor of all of these. But I still think he’s the closest of the two.

    What I love is that it is now a worldwide issue, and a worldwide movement.

    We the Media – will overcome.

    Link to this
  14. 14. chesclyde 9:58 pm 09/22/2012

    Competition is always good for business. Checkout

    Link to this
  15. 15. lakawak 11:30 pm 09/22/2012

    OR…to put it another way…he is following the constitution and keeping the government out of it like it is supposed to.

    Link to this
  16. 16. Joel454 1:36 am 09/23/2012

    In the early days of commercial internet providers companies like America on Line offered their network, with their own contact like Scientific American and also a connection to the general internet. It was the market place that killed this and set-up the present net neutrality that we have today.

    Link to this
  17. 17. kongrooo 8:36 am 09/23/2012

    Sounds like a pretty solid plan to me dude. Wow.

    Link to this
  18. 18. Jeigh 5:44 pm 09/23/2012

    SA seems to have turned in more an an anti-Romney rag that a scientific journal!

    Link to this
  19. 19. Ungolythe 2:13 am 09/24/2012

    People don’t get it. Do you really think that Romney would have the government turn a blind eye to intellectualy property theft? Do you really think it is in our best interests if Comcast decides that it doesn’t really like you website so anyone connecting thru their network would either get drastically reduced speed or not connection to it at all?

    Jeigh, perhaps SA wouldn’t seem to be such an “anti-Romney rag” if he actually used facts to support his positions instead jingoistic claptrap that boils down to “I’m against net-neutrality because I’m for freedom!” when in reality he’s against it because Obama is for it. Of course when he shakes his etch-a-sketch he may come down in favor of it but I think he rather likes the idea of corporate control of the content you have access to.

    Link to this
  20. 20. mormovies 9:41 am 09/24/2012

    “Freedom requires a government, and requires the government to enforce those freedoms.”
    Wow! Stalin couldn’t have said it any better. In 2012, human beings still have faith in a supernaturally ethical ruling elite of super beings that actually create and distribute ‘freedom?’ fairly to the masses? Not only should the internet be free and services owned privately, we need to abolish the FCC as well!

    Link to this
  21. 21. Star Theory 9:50 am 09/24/2012

    What is this political junk?! Am i reading the Huffington Post or is this Sci Am?

    Link to this
  22. 22. priddseren 2:12 pm 09/24/2012

    So let me understand this liberal nonsense. They want net neutrality because of countries like China regulating content and their answer is the US government to start regulating?

    And the author here complains about Romney?
    And the author believes that moronic response from Obama is a good one?

    Obama is basically talking about regulating content where the government gets to pick and choose who gets access and what they can put on it. In effect, some version of what China is doing and he hides this in concepts like protection IP or security, neither of which are relevant. He also mentions online piracy, yet his government is also helping the music industry with their bogus lawsuits as well( the bogus part is going after little kids with million dollar lawsuits)

    Romney on the other hand should have expanded his answer. The fact is good old unbiased capitalism will regulate the internet. The people using the internet will put up with and pay for the services they want. So if some ISP for example starts to give preferenced routing for certain customers, be they content providers such as HULU or a consumer who might pay for the services, this ISP will either survive because that is what their customers want or they will go bankrupt as customers move to other ISPs that do not provide preferences services. This will be true with types of content. For example, some people such as parents or religious fanatics might want to pay for an ISP that blocks pornographic material other people might not care or they may even pay a premium to have that same material not only available but streamed to them high speed.

    The bottom line is the internet with its millions of providers and billions of users will self regulate into a set of services people want to pay for.

    The fact that tyrannical theocracies in the middle east or communists in china block content is totally irrelevant to the discussion. That is a political problem. Those governments already block and limit access to content in the form of books, news papers, letters written, television and the radio. It has nothing at all to do with the internet, it is the nature of socialism and theocracies to limit thought so they can keep power.

    I suppose it is pointless to try to explain to liberals that their idea of net neutrality is simply the way to impose a set of regulations that would in the future be used to restrict the internet in the very ways they fear will happen.

    Just let the market dictate what is happening. People will not buy internet services they dont want. I seriously doubt many will buy into restricted services or put up with ISPs that block them because of others. Let what people want to pay for be the final arbiter of net neutrality.

    Link to this
  23. 23. Christine Gorman 5:17 pm 09/24/2012

    Three points:

    1. There is no partisan bias here. Scientific American’s editorials on the importance of “net neutrality” came out long before either of the candidates answered the questions. Indeed, if you look at the editorial we wrote in February titled “Keep the Internet Fair,” we criticized the rules that the FCC came up last year (under the Obama Administration).

    2. Unlike many politicians, Governor Romney was very clear in his answer. He referred to “net neutrality” as something that only “special interests” care about and that therefore he would oppose “net neutrality” as President.

    3. The mere existence of regulations does not, a priori, designate a lack of freedom. For example, the FCC rules has rules prohibiting the broadcast of indecent material during certain hours that children might be watching. This is NOT a violation of freedom of speech, as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

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  24. 24. Ungolythe 5:51 pm 09/24/2012

    Why are people conflating “Net Neutrality” with China’s regulation of content when the opposite is true? Net neutrality has nothing to do with the government regulating the content available on the internet, it makes the playing field level. I suppose we should also abolish all anti-trust regulation because that involves the evil government. Many of these anti-government types, however, have no problems when anti-obscenity regulation goes to absurd extremes as it did after a famous “nipple” incident. This is not really a partisan issue anyway. I know of many conservatives in my field who are for it and don’t see it as something just for “special interests”. Unless you consider the American consumer at large as a “special interest”.

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  25. 25. Joshua B 7:03 pm 09/24/2012


    While I do see your point, you forgot one critical fact. Most areas are monopolized in respect to high speed internet. I can’t choose to get an alternate high speed connection. Based on that, my only option is to either pay a high premium to possibly access a service that should be available to me or not have high speed access. It’s like Walmart investing in infrastructure and turning all the roads that lead to Kroger, Meijer, or a vast amount of others into dirt roads or even blocked roads.

    -Josh B

    Link to this
  26. 26. mike1145 7:16 pm 09/26/2012

    Did anyone ever notice that the original constitution went out of its way to ensure common communication amongst all the people with the establishment of the Post Office. Why would they interfere with this type of commerce? Because they felt is was too important to trust to the free market.

    What would that group have done if they were writing a constitution today. My guess is they would not entrust the internet to private commerce. The internet is as important today for an informed citizenry as the mail was back in the 1700′s and should not be controlled by private enterprise with all of its hidden agendas.

    Link to this
  27. 27. HubertB 10:40 pm 09/28/2012

    Congress refuses to make it illegal for anyone to break into my computer without a search warrant contrary to the fourth amendment. Then comes the suggestion that the government be able to control the information I can receive over the internet contrary to the first amendment.
    Why don’t we just burn the constitution, or at least be honest and repeal those amendments.

    Link to this
  28. 28. rmstallman 9:40 am 09/29/2012

    Obama doesn’t believe in network neutrality either. On the contrary,
    he arranged for major US ISPs to punish their subscribers if
    movie or record companies accuse the them of forbidden sharing.
    Aside from the fact that sharing is good and ought to be legalized,
    if the ISPs can punish subscribers based on what they communicate,
    that is not neutral.

    Obama’s use of the term “intellectual property” shows what side he’s
    on. That term refers to so many unrelated laws that it is an
    impediment to serious discussion of any of them. It distracts
    attention from ever real issue by focusing it on an abstraction
    unrelated to real issues. See

    Link to this

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