At first, Rick Boucher's idea seemed too good to be true. The former Democratic Congressman from Virginia was proposing an idea so radical that I had to check my notes to make sure I hadn't been daydreaming.
The concept was a bipartisan bill that would give both Democrats and Republicans something each party wants and little or nothing they don't.
Boucher, honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, offered draft legislation that would give the Democrats guaranteed, long term, net neutrality and Republicans something they really want, which is to return Internet access to being an information service rather than a telecommunications service, as it is under Title II. Perhaps more important, the bill that Boucher proposes doesn't attempt to do anything else.
Boucher's reasoning is based on a recent change of heart in Republican circles regarding net neutrality. Lately, it seems the party is OK with the concept as long as they eliminate the real problem they see with Title II, which is the reclassification. "What is so different today is that the Republicans have offered to the Democrats that range of network neutrality protection," Boucher said.
"The Republicans have said that they're willing to put strong protections for net neutrality in place and continue to have protection for information services," Boucher explained. He said that for their part, the Democrats have told him that they're willing to work with the Republicans as long as any legislation doesn't become loaded down with provisions they can't support.
"That way there's only two moving parts," Boucher said. The problem so far is that nobody on the Democratic side of the aisle has moved forward with discussions on how to draft legislation that would get bipartisan support. Now, with the move by the FCC to reclassify Internet access under Title II, Boucher thinks there may be an opening.
In a May 21 press conference held the day before our interview, Boucher and legal scholar Kathleen Sullivan, who is the former Dean of the Stanford Law School, pointed out how recent events could well result in all sides losing what they want. Sullivan pointed out that current legal challenges to the Title II reclassification could, and in fact are likely to, put the entire move by the FCC on hold.
But Boucher pointed out the looming danger that could come about in two years, a Republican win in the White House and a new, Republican-chaired FCC. He said that such an event could effectively undo everything the Democrats want, but also might undo everything the Republicans want, too.