Net neutrality has been repealed, but Congress could still bring it back

Net neutrality has been repealed, but Congress could still bring it back
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The net neutrality protections that millions of Americans asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement were repealed on Monday, a result of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s efforts to undo the work of his predecessor and remove the agency as the cop on the broadband provider beat. The FCC voted to repeal the rules in December, but that vote has now taken effect. If you’re outraged by this news, you’re not alone. Net neutrality keeps our internet free and open, encourages innovation, and galvanizes the growth of small businesses. Fortunately, while the rules are officially gone, there is an important process underway in Congress to reinstate them.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) is a 1996 law that allows Congress to repeal recent federal agency policies by a simple majority in both chambers. It was used only once prior to 2016. This Congress has used it 17 times to repeal Obama-era regulations. But net neutrality isn’t an ordinary political issue, and the use of the CRA to undo a repeal of consumer protections is an admittedly novel use of the law. But here’s why it could give us the most immediate chance at reinstating net neutrality.

Everyone likes net neutrality


Net neutrality is the idea that internet users should decide where they go online without interference or discrimination from their internet service provider. In 2015, the FCC put in place clear rules to protect against blocking, throttling, and prioritizing content in exchange for money, but Chairman Pai pushed for their repeal the moment he was chosen to to lead the commission.

Americans like net neutrality. Surveys have consistently shown that a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all support the 2015 net neutrality rules. For example, one survey from April found that 82 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats opposed the FCC’s move to repeal the rules​, echoing similar numbers from other surveys, including those funded by the cable industry. This widespread support demonstrates that the public sees net neutrality protections as a common sense issue that preserves the internet as a space for innovation, free expression, and organizing.

People don’t just like net neutrality, they’re motivated to take action

Preserving net neutrality isn’t just about popularity. The internet service providers and their lobbyists have very powerful influence in Congress, and stopping them from gutting the rules takes clear, coordinated action. Fortunately, net neutrality supporters have already stepped up time and time again to protect net neutrality. In 2014, more than four million people wrote to the FCC, urging the commissioners to pass strong rules. The number of people who contributed to the 2017 proceeding climbed to more than 20 million. And the week after Pai circulated his plan to repeal the 2015 rules (the day before Thanksgiving), nearly one million people called their members of Congress to voice their objections to the repeal. This is no longer a niche issue — Americans are paying close attention to what their representatives are doing to protect the open internet.

The skeptics have been proven wrong before.

As popular as net neutrality has become, naysayers underestimate the chances of success at every stage. When the FCC proposed weak rules in 2014, many never imagined that we’d end up with the strong rules that the FCC eventually adopted in 2015, and some skeptics lamented the chances of even trying to improve the original proposal.

And after the FCC repealed the rules last December, many thought that was “game over,” even as a group of senators announced a plan to use the CRA to reinstate them. Very few people anticipated that the Senate would actually pass the CRA, and critics repeatedly called the move a political stunt. And yet, the Senate passed the CRA in mid-May with every Democrat and three Republicans voting in favor.

Now, many opponents will try to frame the fight in the House as a lost cause, but we’ve already demonstrated that energy and momentum are on our side. We just need to make sure that members of the House hear loud and clear that their constituents care deeply about net neutrality.

The power is in your hands

Passing the CRA is entirely possible, but we need 218 votes in the House to make it happen. It will take tremendous pressure from people all across the country to move it over the finish line. Fortunately, there are easy tools that connect you directly with the congressional offices that need to hear from you most urgently. The House should follow the Senate’s lead before time runs out when this congressional session ends next January. The momentum to solidify a win in the House is building now, and now is the time to act.

Sarah Morris is the director of Open Internet Policy at the nonprofit New America's Open Technology Institute.