FCC vote won’t end net neutrality fight
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote this week to repeal net neutrality won’t end the fight over the regulation.
Opponents are already lining up to sue the agency, which voted 3-2 to scrap the rules on Thursday, while Democrats are pushing legislation that would prevent the repeal from going into effect.
The FCC said that the net neutrality repeal has to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget before it can go into effect — a process that could take months.
As a result of Thursday’s vote, internet service providers will no longer be prohibited from blocking or throttling websites, or charging sites for faster speeds. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan will also pre-empt states from passing their own net neutrality regulations.
Pai argues that he’s not leaving the industry without oversight, saying that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will be able to take the FCC’s place as the internet’s watchdog and prevent broadband providers from abusing their powers. But critics say that the FTC is unequipped to ensure that the companies play fairly.
It’s still unclear what changes internet users will see under the new system. The broadband industry, which was the driving force behind the rollback, is trying to assure consumers that their internet experience will not change.
Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman who heads the cable and internet provider trade group NCTA, said the industry is not interested in discriminating against certain websites.
“Your internet Thursday afternoon will not change in any significant or substantial way from the internet you’re experiencing today, nor will it be different next week, nor will it be different on a Thursday a year from now,” Powell told reporters on Wednesday.
But net neutrality’s supporters warn that deregulating the internet gatekeepers is going to upend the way startups can harness the internet to grow their businesses. Broadband companies like Verizon and Comcast, critics warn, will be able to charge users more for certain content, or prioritize their own content with better speeds.
“Americans should worry about their broadband bills and the prices they pay for online applications and services rising not only because many areas lack broadband choice, but also because some sites and web services may have to pay for prioritized access online, ultimately passing those costs on to consumers,” Chris Lewis, vice president of the consumer group Public Knowledge, said in a statement. “We don’t know how far broadband providers will take this gatekeeper power.”
Net neutrality supporters aren’t waiting to find out. Angered by the FCC’s move to pre-empt state laws, Democratic attorneys general in states like New York, Oregon and Washington have already announced their intention to sue the agency to preserve the rules. They’ll be joined by public interest groups, including the National Hispanic Media Coalition and Free Press.
“I don’t think the courts are going to approve of the wholesale deregulation of telecom,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) predicted in an interview with The Hill on Wednesday.
Passing the legislation will be difficult, since Republicans control both chambers. But a few GOP members have come out in opposition to the FCC’s repeal. Evan Greer, an activist with the pro-net neutrality group Fight for the Future, admits that a CRA bill is a “hail Mary,” but predicts that lawmakers will be under enormous pressure to preserve the hugely popular rules.
“Ajit Pai has created a political crisis for his own party by pushing for such an extreme proposal,” Greer told The Hill on Friday.
Fight for the Future has helped lead the massive grass-roots opposition to Pai’s efforts. Greer says the group will be turning its focus to lighting a fire under Congress by forcing lawmakers to take a position on the issue and tracking them with an online scorecard.
“We’re going to be putting every single member of Congress’s face on a webpage and showing whether or not they’ve taken this action to support their constituent’s basic right to use the internet,” she said.
The telecom industry and most Republicans are pushing for legislation that would replace the FCC’s rules, hoping to end the regulatory back-and-forth over net neutrality that will likely ensue whenever the White House switches hands.
But a number of Democrats believe that any bill that Republicans come up with will fall short of the FCC’s protections. In any case, they’ll be hesitant to come to the negotiating table while a lawsuit is in progress and when the issue can be used during the midterm elections.
“I thought the Republicans aren’t for unnecessary lawmaking,” Khanna said. “Here we have good law, we just need an FCC that will enforce the law.”