Zero hour nears for net neutrality rules

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is moving forward with a plan to scrap net neutrality rules, defying a massive outcry from activists, Democrats and consumers.

On Thursday, the FCC is expected to approve Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to repeal rules that require internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally. The measure is expected to pass 3-2, with all the Republican appointees supporting repeal and all the Democratic appointees opposing.

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Polls on the topic vary, but a recent Morning Consult/Politico survey found that 52 percent of voters support the rules that are in place, including 53 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats. Overall disapproval of the rules sits at 18 percent.

Pai and the other FCC Republicans defend ending the rules, saying there is little danger that broadband providers will slow down or censor internet content if they aren’t in place. The regulations are too onerous, they say, and hurt the industry’s ability to innovate and tailor their services to consumers.

“I think what net neutrality repealed would actually mean is we once again have a free and open internet,” Pai said on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show Monday night. “The government would not be regulating how anyone in the internet service providers, how anyone else in the internet economy manages their networks.”

Pai and his Republican allies in Congress say investment in broadband infrastructure has declined since former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler put the net neutrality rules in place in 2015. They warn that drop in investment will slow gains in broadband speeds and raise costs for consumers.

Democrats, major internet firms and tech startups see things very differently.

They say the net neutrality rules are essential for preserving an open internet. Without them, they warn, web companies will no longer compete on a level playing field.

“All you have to do is look at what went on over the last 10 or 15 years to see how the [internet service providers] repeatedly sought to crush potential competitors and challenged the FCC’s previous net neutrality rules in court to understand why the Open Internet Order was needed — and to see what will happen if the Open Internet Order is repealed,” Rep. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHouse Dems press FCC chairman for answers on false cyberattack claim House Dems call for new FCC probe into Sinclair FCC passes controversial rule changing how it handles consumer complaints MORE (D-Pa.) said on Tuesday.

Doyle, the top Democrat on a subcommittee that oversees the FCC, said that he plans to introduce legislation after Thursday’s vote that would block the repeal from going into effect. But that bill is unlikely to go anywhere in the Republican-majority House.

On Monday, Pai announced an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to share the burden of policing internet service providers once the net neutrality rules are gone. Under the plan, the FTC will be tasked with cracking down on providers that engage in unfair or deceptive practices, while the FCC will make sure providers are being transparent about whether they block, throttle or promote web content.

Critics say that arrangement won’t be enough to prevent internet providers from abusing their powers.

They point to instances of internet service providers violating net neutrality principles prior to the passage of the rules in 2015. Back then, the FTC had primary jurisdiction over internet providers.

With the FCC determined to forge ahead, activists are making one last-ditch effort to defend the rules.

On Thursday morning, hundreds are expected to protest outside the FCC in Washington before the scheduled vote. Democratic lawmakers like Reps. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaFreedom Caucus ponders weakened future in minority Ocasio-Cortez tiptoes into Washington New Dem star to rattle DC establishment MORE (Calif.), Keith EllisonKeith Maurice Ellison#BelieveAllWomen, in the Ellison era, looks more like #BelieveTheConvenientWomen Ellison ex-girlfriend details abuse allegations Dem requests DOJ probe on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology MORE (Minn.) and Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersFire chief demoted for saying Maxine Waters gives the n-word a 'bad name' Pelosi says Maxine Waters ‘strikes fear in the heart’ of Trump Hatch 'not comfortable' with Trump calling Omarosa a 'dog' MORE (Calif.) are slated to attend.

And even though Democrats have been the most vocal about wanting to keep the rules, a handful of Republicans have expressed skepticism or outright opposition to Pai’s push.

Most notably, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWhite House weighs clawing back State, foreign aid funding The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) Overnight Defense: Pompeo creates 'action group' for Iran policy | Trump escalates intel feud | Report pegs military parade cost at M MORE (R-Maine) has expressed support for keeping the net neutrality rules, warning that the FCC’s moves could be “anti-competitive” in a “way that limits consumers’ choices.”

But overall, Pai’s plan has broad support among congressional Republicans, who appear unlikely to support any legislation keeping some form of net neutrality in place. The GOP has urged Democrats to collaborate on a legislative replacement to the rules, but Democrats don’t think that proposals Republicans have floated privately are substantive enough.

“That lasting finality can only come from legislation, which is why I have been open to finding a true bipartisan solution on this issue,” said Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDem campaign chairman expresses confidence over path to Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) Dems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints MORE (Fla.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, during a hearing in May.

“The reality we’re facing right now is that there are too many folks — from Chairman Pai to stakeholders and lawmakers — that are dug in on this issue, making compromise an impossible task,” he said.