One year later, net neutrality fight enters new phase

One year later, net neutrality fight enters new phase
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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.

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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 LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeJustice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Trump on Romney's negative coronavirus test: 'I am so happy I can barely speak' 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 CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves Florida sheriff asks for new leads in disappearance of Carole Baskin's former husband after Netflix's 'Tiger King' drops MORE (Texas) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioConfusion surrounds launch of 9B in small-business loans Trump officials report billions in small business loans on first day of program Miami Herald: Citadel Securities has set up shop in Palm Beach Four Seasons amid NY outbreak MORE (Fla.) — both presidential candidates as well as Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP senator: National shelter-in-place order would be an 'overreaction' Lawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package Cuban says he'd spank daughter if she was partying during coronavirus pandemic 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 Randolph ThuneTrump's magical thinking won't stop the coronavirus pandemic Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill MORE (R-S.D.) and ranking member Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonLobbying world The most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lobbying world 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.