U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, arrives for her annual speech to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, arrives for her annual speech to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Murkowski should oppose Kavanaugh on consumer, other grounds

If Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court, he will fight for Big Cable and Big Telecom interests without regard for consumers.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has in the past voted to uphold many consumer, Alaska Native and health care rights for Alaskans. Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court poses a threat to all three.

The Alaska Public Interest Research Group, or AKPIRG, is particularly concerned about the negative impacts that repealing net neutrality, which prohibits internet providers from charging users differently, would have on Alaskan small businesses and rural communities should Kavanaugh be confirmed to the Supreme Court. Murkowski has consistently protected health care and Alaska Native rights, both of which are threatened by net neutrality’s repeal by the Trump Administration. The February 2018 repeal by the Federal Communications Commission currently is being challenged by multiple states.

In May 2018, Murkowski joined two Republicans using the Congressional Review Act to oppose the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. At the time, she stated that “In Alaska, at stake are rural health clinics and schools that rely on life-saving tele-medicine services and access to educational resources … tele-health and tele-education in Alaska are not just important, it’s critical.” Murkowski understands how important net neutrality is to rural Alaskans, Alaska’s small businesses and consumers. To date, the House of Representatives has not voted on the repeal of net neutrality.

Kavanaugh has a record of going beyond the judicial mainstream to oppose net neutrality, however. He has even described the concept as unlawful. On this issue, as with many others, Kavanaugh sides with corporate special interests rather than the public.

When it comes to net neutrality, the core argument centers on how to classify the broadband companies that provide internet access. By providing access, Kavanaugh believes, those companies are selling specific goods to consumers and so should be able to set their own market prices — in other words, raising prices for consumers in order to get full access to the internet. When it comes to this issue, Kavanaugh’s in the position of a small minority of judges as well as the public. Even former conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia disagreed, arguing that broadband companies are akin to utilities and so cannot be regulated by the companies in question.

According to the FCC, the federal body that regulates digital communications, as of 2017 over 40 percent of census areas only offer one broadband option, and there are only two options in 70 percent of census areas. Clearly, many companies are not competing with each other. It is therefore the consumers — not the carriers — that need protection. If Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court, he will fight for Big Cable and Big Telecom interests without regard for consumers — particularly rural consumers, of which there are many in Alaska.

Kavanaugh’s opposition to net neutrality would raise costs, limit tele-health options and harm Alaskan small businesses that depend on affordable, non-discriminatory internet access. Prices also would rise for individual consumers, hitting rural Alaskans particularly hard.

In May, Murkowski defended net neutrality and the interests of her fellow Alaskans. Supporting Kavanaugh’s fast-tracked confirmation now would undermine many of the issues and values she has long championed, including net neutrality. AKPIRG urges Sen. Murkowski to continue fighting for Alaskans — and our hard-won rights as consumers and citizens — by voting against Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

• Veri di Suvero, of Anchorage, is executive director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit, non-partisan, citizen-oriented statewide organization focused on researching, educating and advocating on behalf of the public interest. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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