FCC Chairperson Ajit Pai led the organization in a repeal of net neutrality last year, but legislators and states have both indicated they won’t let things lapse without a fight. Twenty-one states, including New York, California, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Virginia, have filed suit alongside the District of Columbia, requesting that the federal government review the FCC’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” order.
Ajit Pai’s decision to rescind net neutrality protections has not been particularly popular with the American public. Public polling for net neutrality support showed repeatedly that US citizens favor keeping rules in place requiring ISPs to treat content equally. It certainly hasn’t helped that many of the objections to net neutrality involve completely false talking points about investment (it didn’t drop) or how the new rules gave the FCC control over what ISPs charge. The FCC chairperson who enacted net neutrality, Tom Wheeler, neither argued for sweeping powers or requested them.
“An open internet – and the free exchange of ideas it allows – is critical to our democratic process,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers – allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online. This would be a disaster for New York consumers and businesses, and for everyone who cares about a free and open internet. That’s why I’m proud to lead this broad coalition of 22 Attorneys General in filing suit to stop the FCC’s illegal rollback of net neutrality.”
The 21-state coalition was expected to sue over the rule changes. One argument the states will make is that the FCC didn’t properly follow the rules laid out in the US legal code for its decision to rescind previous net neutrality regulations. Under US law, there’s a lengthy process through which rules are proposed and adopted, known as the notice-and-comment rules. Reversing previous rulings under notice-and-comment can take several years (under the current schedule, if it isn’t stopped, the FCC’s notice will go into effect within the next few months).
There’s also the question of whether the FCC can justify its rollback in the first place. The FCC’s first effort to create a net neutrality law were killed by Verizon. The second effort, led by Wheeler, was enacted in 2015. To make its case, the FCC was required to produce a huge volume of work that comprehensively documented why it believed its net neutrality proposals and guidelines were the appropriate solution to various problems.
Government agencies are allowed to reach new determinations as situations change and it’s not uncommon for a new President to have different priorities than his or her predecessor. But it’s generally assumed a government agency would not go to the trouble to spend six years crafting a net neutrality proposal that it defended as a necessary and core component of ensuring the internet remained accessible at a reasonable price to all Americans, only to turn around and say “yeah, we don’t agree any longer,” when a member of the opposite political party is elected.
Could Congress Actually Solve This Problem?
Ongoing Congressional dysfunction in 2018 makes the chances of a legislative solution to the net neutrality issue slim, but not completely impossible. In the Senate, all 49 Democrats and one Republican (Susan Collins, R-Maine) have signed on to an initiative that would block the Pai-led FCC from carrying out its order to kill net neutrality. One more Republican vote would pass the Senate, and again, net neutrality protections poll well across the spectrum of American voters.
The problem is, any resolution condemning the FCC’s killing of net neutrality would have to pass both the House and earn a signature from President Trump. The President has shown no interest in supporting net neutrality and House Republicans don’t seem overly concerned about the issue either.
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