If you’re a fan of messy politics, the past few weeks in the US Congress have been an early holiday present. If it wasn’t the ridiculous fight about whether people on terrorist lists should be able to buy guns (seriously?!?) or if 9/11 first responders should have their health care benefits preserved in perpetuity (how is this a question?), there was yet another looming deadline to fund the country until the end of the fiscal year in September 2016. It’s exhausting.
Amidst all the muck, there’s some good news: The $1.8 trillion omnibus spending bill passed in record time on Friday by both the House and Senate did nothing to curtail the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality regulations, meaning Internet users and service providers can continue to have unfettered access to online content without worrying about delays in downloads or streaming sites. This is a big deal.
“A proposed part of the must-pass spending bill would have cut the legs off the FCC’s February victory over Big Telecom,” explains the Future of Music Coalition. “Fortunately, despite hard lobbying by companies like Verizon and Comcast, provisions to keep the FCC from enforcing its Open Internet Order didn’t make it into the bill. But this is certainly not the last we’ll hear from these communication conglomerates, who wish to legalize tiered levels of internet access that would do great damage to a free and open internet and make it harder for independent musicians to have access to a level playing field and express themselves online. (It’s also worth noting that our Open Internet allies have raised concerns about some cybersecurity provisions in the bill.)”
Those allies include FreePress, which warns that phone and cable companies and their lobbyists will launch a new attack against net neutrality in the new year, aimed at convincing Congress to undermine the FCC regulations. “The public won’t stand for any industry scheme to legislate away our Internet freedoms,” the group says.
The cybersecurity measure in question requires the sharing of personal consumer data among government agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, National Security Agency and the FBI, according to the updated Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA).
According to the Guardian, CISA “would create a system for corporate informants willing to share their customers’ data with the Department of Homeland Security, which would then pass the information to other federal agencies, defined in the final texts as the departments of Commerce, Defense (which oversees the CIA), Energy, Justice (the FBI) the Treasury (which oversees the IRS), and the office of the Director of National Intelligence (which oversees the NSA).” This is in exchange for shielding participating companies from any regulatory action related to information they’ve passed on and from any Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the public–in other words, protecting them from inquiring reporters who want to shine a light on their actions and examine what kind of information has been relayed.
Oh, and don’t forget that the FCC’s net neutrality regulations also are still in the midst of an ongoing lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. But if Cecilia Kang of the New York Times is to be believed, the justices there might be increasingly comfortable with what the FCC has done in regulating the internet as a utility.
She reports that Judge David S. Tatel, one of three justices who will rule in the case early next year, “pointed several times to case history that supports the FCC’s move to regulate broadband services like utilities. He said an opinion by the Supreme Court in 2005 gave the FCC the ability to categorize communications services as it sees fit. Judge Tatel also repeatedly went back to that high court decision in questions to cable and telecom companies suing the agency for outreach.
“‘Isn’t that our starting point,’ Judge Tatel said just minutes into a long morning of oral arguments,” Kang reports, noting that Tatel himself previously wrote two opinions, in 2010 and 2014, vacating net neutrality rules. Those actions led directly to the FCC’s actions in February.