Circle June 11 on the calendar – that’s the day the Federal Communications Commission says it will start enforcing the new net neutrality regulations.
Odds are, nothing will change that day. Remember, there’s still a lawsuit to be settled and nothing ever happens according to the calendar in Washington.
“I strongly support a free and open internet,” said free-and-open internet killer Ajit Pai, the FCC’s chairman. “That’s exactly what we had for decades, starting with the Clinton Administration.” That’s the MO here, by the way – point to something a Democrat did in order to say hey, we’re cool kids too, we’re with what the youngsters dig and if a Dem supported it, it must be good!
“The internet wasn’t broke in 2015, when the prior FCC buckled to political pressure and imposed heavy-handed Title II rules on the internet economy. It doesn’t make sense to apply outdated rules from 1934 to the internet, but that’s exactly what the prior administration did,” Pai said.
Ok, that’s just not true – the section of the Telecommunications Act that the Obama-era net neutrality rules are based on actually dates back to the ‘60s, not the ‘30s, and regulates utilities to ensure fairness. The Obama regs also ensure that companies like Comcast can’t force websites and services like Netflix to pay more in order to have the same speed and ease of access as its own partner sites.
A problem in search of a solution
By the way, Comcast did that and essentially extorted Netflix, throttling their service and slowing streaming capabilities for their customers. A problem that has been widely noted and serves to directly and explicitly prove that the Obama administration’s net neutrality policies were, in fact, addressing a problem.
Pai’s regulations would allow internet service providers to charge streaming companies in order to ensure unfettered access for their services. It would allow ISPs to create levels of service or charge more for access to certain bundles of sites based on popularity, frequency of use or whatever it wanted. And it could very well make it harder for artists to reach their potential audience with the same ease they can now.
“On June 11, we will have a framework in place that encourages innovation and investment in our nation’s networks,” Pai continues, despite the overwhelming evidence that the Obama-era regs did nothing to deter broadband investment and innovation. “We will embrace a modern, forward-looking approach the will help the United States lead the world in 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity. For months, many politicians and special interests have tried to mislead the American people about the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. Now everyone will be able to see the truth for themselves.”
Here’s where things get a little messy.
A group nearly two dozen state attorneys general have filed a lawsuit to prevent these rollbacks from taking effect. The charge was led by Eric Schneiderman, the former attorney general for New York who resigned abruptly Monday evening after he was accused of assaulting at least four women. (Schneiderman, by the way, was also a leader in efforts against ticket bots.) They’ve been joined in their pursuit by some of the biggest internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Netflix, PayPal and others.
The current acting AG in New York, Barbara Underwood, was sworn in on Wednesday. As the FCC released its statement Thursday, she spoke up on net neutrality as well: “A free and open internet is critical to New York and to our democracy. The repeal of net neutrality will allow internet service providers to put their profits before the consumers they serve and control what we see, do and say online. This office has proudly led the suit to block this illegal rollback of net neutrality — and we certainly won’t stop now. We look forward to making our case in court.”
Senate weighs in
There are other efforts underway to prevent Pai from having his cake and eating it too.
On Wednesday, 15 Senate Democrats testified about the importance of maintaining Obama’s regulations for truly protecting net neutrality.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said that this would be an important time, both politically for them and in the lives of their constituents. Would voters see their elected officials “protecting average consumers and middle-class families, or are they protecting the big corporate special interests?”
The Democrats, who have a minority of seats in the Senate, have enough signatures in the 100-seat legislative body to force discussion of the proposed changes on the Senate floor. The move would trigger the Congressional Review Act, which could be the “first step toward overturning the FCC’s action and reinstating the rules that were designed to ensure the uninhibited flow of data online,” the LA Times reports. “The 1996 act allows Congress to overturn a federal agency rule by a simple majority vote in each chamber. Signatures from 30 senators require the Senate to hold a vote that can’t be filibustered or blocked by the majority leader.”
A vote is expected next week – if one is determined, it must take place before June 12, in line with the FCC’s stated enactment of the new regs.
So, again, circle June 11 on the calendar. If the FCC moves forward to undo the protections that the Obama FCC worked for years, through the legal system, to perfect and enshrine, expect more delays and legal challenges to be thrown in the way to muddy the water.