What’s Jeb Bush got against net neutrality, anyway?

If you tweet those Jeb pics, will they be treated equally on the internet?
If you tweet those Jeb pics, will they be treated equally on the internet?
Image: Reuters/Brian Snyder
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Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor contending for the Republican presidential nomination, says he’d repeal a raft of government rules on taking office.

In particular, Bush says net neutrality—the idea that internet service providers shouldn’t discriminate against different kinds of content—is a bad idea.

His opposition comes couched in the language used by cable companies that oppose net neutrality: He argues that the rules will kill investment in the industry, noting that two tiny broadband companies have “declared under penalty of perjury” they must cut back under the rule.

However, more than 70% of US broadband is provided by major cable companies, and they have not sworn such statements—likely because running a major telecommunications network is a lucrative business even if you can’t use your market power to demand extra fees from content-providers your customers want to access.

But they—Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, and other incumbent telecom companies—are suing the government to change net neutrality rules so they can charge those fees; they are opposed by major internet content companies, like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Netflix, and by public interest groups who say that giving cable companies power to discriminate is detrimental to consumers.

Before recent years, net neutrality had remained something of a non-partisan issue, with civil liberties and anti-trust issues bridging the left-right divide over government telling companies what to do.

But when frequent corporate challenges to the FCC’s net neutrality rules forced the agency to draw upon an older authority called Title II to classify the internet a common carrier, some on the right saw too much intervention. Another Republican running for president, Senator Ted Cruz, called the new net neutrality rules “Obamacare for the internet,” even though he was pretty far off.

Now, presidential politics has turned an argument over market structure between competing business interests—reductively, those that build and maintain the internet’s physical infrastructure, and those that make the software that runs on that infrastructure—into a fight between the political parties, with Democrats backing the net neutrality rules.

And, for Bush, it’s not just net neutrality that gets his goat. He also opposes, among others, rules put in place after the financial crisis to prevent consumers from being ripped off by banks and stop those banks from gambling with federally-insured money; efforts that limit fracking on federal lands; and rules that require industrial farms to consult the EPA before spraying pesticides.

All these rules have costs and benefits that should be debated, and there’s no doubt some may be failures and worth removing—the Obama administration itself launched initiatives to cut unneeded red tape.

But when Jeb Bush argues that all of Obama’s rules “cost” Americans $1.9 trillion a year, it’s worth remembering that the number under his brother’s administration was $1.75 trillion—and that the oft-questioned estimate (pdf) he relies on doesn’t even attempt to take into account any of the benefits of regulation.

The Office of Management and Budget’s latest estimate (pdf) of the net benefit of regulations passed during the Obama administration is $200 billion.