One year later, net neutrality fight enters new phase

Getty Images

The fight over net neutrality is entering a new phase, one year after the Federal Communications Commission approved the landmark Internet rules.

Regulators are moving to develop new standards, even as critics push forward to have the courts or Congress curb or strike down the rules down entirely.

ADVERTISEMENT
Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the FCC vote adopting new rules ensuring that all Internet traffic is treated in the same way.

The measure was approved on a party-line vote at the commission, highlighting a partisan fight that shows no signs of letting up.

The rules sparked court challenges, left lawmakers scrambling to respond and the FCC with a complicated to-do list.

Under the rules, Internet service providers aren’t allowed to slow down web traffic or block it entirely. They also can’t let a website or service pay to speed up delivery of its content.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and other net neutrality supporters say it's key to protecting the open Internet as we know it.

“Strong rules of the road have provided certainty for innovators & investors so [broadband] network deployment continues,” he tweeted on Friday to mark the rule's anniversary.

But to get the authority to implement the rules, the FCC fundamentally changed the way they treat Internet providers under the law. That's drawn the ire of conservatives who see it as government overreach and have vowed to undo the rules.

The debate is now focused on two questions: If the courts or Congress will block or temper the rules; and if not, how the FCC will implement them.

A federal court heard arguments last December in a industry challenge. A three-judge panel is weighing whether the FCC overstepped its powers when it reclassified Internet service to give it authority on the issue.

And a new challenge to the rules came this week in the form of legislation from conservative lawmakers — including two presidential candidates — to repeal the regulations entirely.

Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeShutdown risk grows over Flint Conservative group presses GOP to vote against spending bill Trump accepts Cruz endorsement after saying he wouldn't MORE’s (R-Utah) bill says the Internet rules would have "no force or effect" and would keep the FCC from enacting such measures in the future.

It's co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzThe Trail 2016: Fight night Google backs Obama's internet transition plan Steve King asks: Will Clinton be ‘on her meds or off her meds’ for debate? MORE (Texas) and Marco RubioMarco RubioGlenn Beck: I was wrong about Ted Cruz Senate rivals gear up for debates Rubio: End of Obama's term could be 'most damaging yet' MORE (Fla.) — both presidential candidates as well as Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate poised to override Obama veto Senate to vote on 9/11 veto override Wednesday This week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, among others.

“So-called net neutrality leads to fewer choices, fewer opportunities, and higher prices for consumers,” Cruz said in a statement. “If the FCC turns the Internet into a regulated public utility, the innovation and creativity that has characterized the Internet from its dawn will inevitably be stifled.”

For now, the rules are in place, but some conservatives express hope that they could still be dealt a fatal blow on Capitol Hill, in the courts or by the next president's FCC.

“I am optimistic,” said Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai, a staunch and vocal opponent of the rules, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Friday.

“Proponents of Internet freedom have opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to strike down President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet," he continued. "In contrast, regulatory activists must win every battle to stay the course. I like those odds."

Some on both sides of the fight have held out hope that lawmakers will reach a middle ground on net neutrality. 

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn ThuneOvernight Tech: Tech pushes for debate spotlight | Disney may bid for Twitter | Dem seeks Yahoo probe Google backs Obama's internet transition plan Week ahead in tech: Key test for FCC's TV-box plan MORE (R-S.D.) and ranking member Bill NelsonBill NelsonShutdown risk grows over Flint Takata says it failed to report airbag rupture in 2003 This week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress MORE (D-Fla.) say they are interested in pursuing compromised, but have failed to present legislation so far.

While Congress looks for a path forward and lawyers press on in the courts, the FCC is ramping up its efforts to implement the rules.

Regulators must apply new privacy rules to Internet service providers, with the commission expected to put forth its approach in the coming months.

That has already launched a heated battle between public interest advocates and industry groups.

Industry representatives say that the rules should closely resemble how the Federal Trade Commission polices privacy — even as some say the agency has relatively limited powers when it comes to guiding industry. 

Public interest groups counter that the FCC should take the opportunity to give itself stronger enforcement powers over powerful Internet providers.

Wheeler hasn’t given many clues on how he'll decide, but has said that privacy shouldn’t be viewed as new ground for the agency.

“Network privacy is something that we’ve always been involved in,” he said at January’s Consumer Electronics Show.

One thing is clear, though, for both sides: the fight over net neutrality isn't going away.

A court ruling could come this year, and the FCC could release its privacy plans as soon as next month.