A resolution to save net neutrality has passed Congress this week, but it still has a tough hill to climb before it becomes the law of the land.
When Trump appointee, Ajit Pai took over the FCC a process of dismantling Obama-era net neutrality rules began. Senator Edward Markey D-MA pulled out the 1996 Congressional Review Act (CRA), a law that gives Congress the ability to reverse agency regulations. In this case, Markey used the CRA to push back new FCC directives that are widely criticized for being anti-consumer and in Markey’s words: “…only serves the interests of corporate donors like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, who stand to thrive under the Pai’s new policies.”
The underlying rules Markey seeks through this joint resolution via CRA, are just the broad strokes that most everyone associates with net neutrality principles. The resolution would not affect FOSTA, a new bill that may be equally damaging to net neutrality principles, but has already been written into law just last month.
What Congress just voted to pass were rules to give consumers complete access to the entire Internet. No blocking, throttling or favoring certain content at the whim or profit of your ISP, while leaving other content to languish behind Internet slow lanes.
Markey says of his Congressional Review Act to Save Net Neutrality:
“After you pay your monthly Internet bill, you should be able to access all content on the web at the same speed. No slowing down certain websites, no blocking websites and no charging you more to exercise your 21st century right to access the Internet – it’s as simple as that.”
Markey says that 86% of Americans overall and 82% of registered Republicans support a net neutrality law. Despite divisions among American voters today, net neutrality is one issue everyone seems to agree upon.
“The internet is the most powerful platform for commerce and communications in the history of the planet.” Markey said to Congress just before voting on the resolution.
Senator Markey on Net Neutrality
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s position on government net neutrality rules has been that it’s simply not needed. Pai has said that prior to the 2015 FCC regulations that he rolled back this year, net neutrality had already existed. However, to contradict Pai’s argument, Senator Markey clarified the need for net neutrality laws by pointing to specific infractions that he says only regulations can address:
- 2007: AP investigation found that Comcast was blocking or severely slowing down bit torrents.
- 2007 through 2009: AT&T forces Apple to block Skype and voice over Internet services to encourage users to buy more voice minutes from the telco.
- 2011: Verizon blocked Google Wallet to protect a competing service that it had a stake in promoting
Net Neutrality’s Long Road Ahead
Many saw the challenge of getting Markey’s CRA through Senate was the Republican majority. But the CRA passed with a vote of 52 – 47. All 49 Democrats voted in favor along with three Republicans; Susan Collins R-Maine, John Kennedy R-Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski R-Alaska.The next hurdle to legally restore net neutrality is a vote in the House of Representatives, another branch of the government dominated by a Republican majority. Assuming all House Democrats vote in favor, supporters still require at least 22 House Republicans to push the FCC into restoring the rules of the Internet. Then, in the event that the CRA passes the House, it can still be vetoed by President Trump who has already stated that he is not a fan of Obama-era net neutrality regulations.
Net Neutrality Bill’s Long Game
Despite the long haul ahead for a real net neutrality law, seeing it defeated in the House or by veto may only be a setback. The long-game strategy in bringing the issue to a vote using the CRA is the upcoming midterm elections. In November 2018 Americans take to the polls where net neutrality is sure to be a hot issue once again, and will be fresh in the minds of voters.
Net neutrality has clear bipartisan support and could be a key midterm issue in contested districts. Markey’s CRA strategy may yet lose out in the short term, dying at the hands of the House or a Presidential veto. But it was a brilliant chess move to clearly define to delineate every member of Congress’ stand on the issue. In the event of a net neutrality-friendly midterm, the prospect for a clear and open Internet will surely be back and stronger than ever.