Mark your calendars because the time has come: as of June 11 the FCC announced yesterday that its Open Internet rules (better known as “net neutrality”) will cease and new FCC rules governing the Internet will take effect.
This was the latest in a series of procedural milestones in the net neutrality debate. In a contentious December 2017 decision, the FCC voted along party lines to reverse the 2015 Obama-era oversight rules which Chairman Ajit Pai called “heavy-handed.” The effective date of this reversal was tied to approval from the Office of Management and Budget, which occurred on May 2.
For a refresher, the new rules (also called the Restoring Internet Freedom rules) will reclassify broadband Internet access as an “information service” and will largely leave regulation of the Internet to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) (which we talked about here). Chairman Pai said that allowing the FTC to oversee the Internet would “once again protect consumers’ online privacy and promote competition across the entire Internet ecosystem instead of harming innovation and investment with Depression-era rules.” The Restoring Internet Freedom Order eliminates rules against blocking and paid prioritization, a major concern for net neutrality supporters, who say that this will allow Internet service providers to willingly favor the delivery of certain Internet content to users.
In opposition to this measure, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel yesterday (sitting as the lone opposition after fellow Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn stepped down last month), issued a strong statement calling out the FCC for being “on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American people. It deserves to have its handiwork revisited, reexamined, and ultimately reversed.”
Yesterday’s announcement certainly will not close the books on net neutrality. Senate Democrats have been working since December to overturn the FCC’s decision, and were quick to take to Twitter to voice their opposition in response to Chairman Pai’s announcement of the Order’s effective date. Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who has spearheaded this effort, urged that “the Senate must act NOW and pass my resolution to save the Internet as we know it.” The U.S. Senate is set to vote next week on Senator Markey’s resolution to reject the FCC repeal. Even if this measure passes the Senate (uncertain), and passes the U.S. House (unlikely), President Trump has already said he would veto it. Even that would not be the end of the line, however, as more than 22 state attorneys general have already filed legal challenges to the Commission’s repeal of the net neutrality rules.
Keep an eye on CommLawBlog for continuing developments on this debate.