Congress Prepares To Gut Net Neutrality With Bills Pretending To Save It

from the who-needs-a-healthy,-open-internet? dept

As we’ve noted a few times, the Trump administration and new FCC boss Ajit Pai have made it abundantly clear net neutrality protections will be going the way of the dodo under their watch. Given the threat of activist backlash and the logistical complications of rolling back the rules via the FCC, neutrality opponents’ (like Pai) first step toward eliminating net neutrality will likely be to simply refuse to enforce them. From there, ISPs have been lobbying Congress to pass new laws that either hamstring regulatory authority, or pretend to protect net neutrality while actually doing the exact opposite.

For example, the House last week quickly passed a trio of new bills that would not only allow Congress to roll back Obama-era regulations (including net neutrality) en masse, but would give Congress effective veto power over future regulations from a number of regulatory agencies (including the FDA, EPA, and FCC). But there’s also indications the GOP is cooking up a Communications Act rewrite with an eye toward weakening the FCC’s authority over industry giants like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T even further.

Over at Vox, readers were recently informed that “A Republican bill could be our best chance to save net neutrality.” According to author Timothy Lee, we need Congress to write a quality set of net neutrality protections to establish permanent protections, avoiding the partisan patty cake that occurs each time FCC oversight shifts:

“Donald Trump?s FCC looks poised to repeal the net neutrality regulations Obama?s FCC passed in 2015. If a Democrat is elected president in 2020, it?s a near certainty that the FCC will reinstate a version of Obama?s rules. Then if a Republican is elected in 2024 or 2028, the FCC is likely to tear those rules down.

Having the rules switch back and forth unpredictably is a disaster for both sides in the net neutrality debate. A legislative compromise can solve this problem. Because passing legislation is a lot harder than changing an FCC rule, a rule passed by Congress with buy-in from both parties would have a much better chance of being permanent.”

And while it’s true that a Congressional net neutrality law would certainly be the preferred and more permanent solution, some of you might have noticed that Congress is so campaign-cash compromised that achieving this end has proven to be virtually impossible over the last decade. Case in point is the “compromise” net neutrality legislation Senators Thune and Upton tabled last year as a last-ditch effort to deter the FCC from tougher rules. The proposal was so stuffed with loopholes as to be arguably useless, but was lauded by industry as a “sensible compromise” to the endless debate over net neutrality.

The problem is that passing ultra-weak rules just to stop the endless game of partisan fisticuffs isn’t much of an actual solution to the problem. Thune and the GOP are preparing to table new legislation that would once again profess to put this issue to bed, but is very likely to fail to address the areas where the net neutrality fight is actually occurring right now, including interconnection, usage caps, and zero rating. Still, Lee tries repeatedly to insist that this sort of flimsy legislation would be better than no legislation at all:

“Still, if the alternative is four or even eight years of no network neutrality protections at all, some net neutrality fans might take a deal. More importantly, big telecommunications companies give generously on both sides of the aisle. So there may be some centrist Democrats who are willing to take a deal despite pressure from liberal activists to reject it.”

But it’s simply not clear that’s really true. It might feel good to pass new net neutrality rules professing to put the issue to bed, but if the rules don’t actually address any of the actual issues of the day, it’s at best just theater, and — depending on how it’s written — could actually act to make many of the more controversial net neutrality violations legal permanently. And if attempts to defund and defang the FCC are embedded in this or other bills in sync, actually enforcing consumer telecom protections (net neutrality, privacy, or otherwise) could prove harder than ever.

Of course there’s another utterly crazy solution: for Congress to finally realize that net neutrality has broad, bipartisan support, and that a healthy and open internet is good for everyone. It’s certainly a wild idea, but Congress could put the issue to bed and prove it actually cares about startups, innovators and consumers — by leaving the existing rules alone, and moving on to other more pressing issues of the day.

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Comments on “Congress Prepares To Gut Net Neutrality With Bills Pretending To Save It”

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51 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

We all know where this is heading. Sure it may be prevented by broad activism and protesting and we shouldn’t lay down arms or accept as inevitable. But truth is it’s a very hard battle to the point a victory for the population is unlikely.

On the other hand, if this administration is bad enough that it causes real, visible damage in a massive scale then it might actually be a good thing. Sometimes we need to reach the bottom of the pit to actually turn around and start climbing up. I’m not sure if Trump and a Republican Congress that is populated mostly by the worst the Republicans can offer at the time are the bottom of the well but it seems so. In that case, brace yourselves, hope for utter chaos and for a swift rebirth from the ashes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“On the other hand, if this administration is bad enough that it causes real, visible damage in a massive scale then it might actually be a good thing.”

This is what is required to wake people from their apathy. The real questions are… 1. will the damage be enough? and 2. more importantly, will the solution be the correct one?

I vote not likely on 1 and fat chance on 2. So sit back, it’s going to sucks, might as well grab some popcorn and TRY to enjoy this fucked up ride!

OGquaker says:

Re: Re: Re:4 SouthCentral pays in cash

PacBell closed all their walk-in payment centers ~1990, but when TheGasCo. tried to close their street offices my roommate put together protests and legal action that kept them open for a few more years. The utility monopoly bent their tariffs to allow 7-11 and such to accept cash, but not complaints.
Utility & Landline tariffs were presented on paper at all public offices, now you will NEVER see the contract you WILL be the victim of.
The city tows legally parked cars during parades and such to avoid a physical confrontation with an owner; lying to a persons face is a rare thing.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Amen. I feel like my brain is bionic, enhanced by the Internet. Need to fix the torque sensor in my e-bike…youtube search…there’s a video to teach me.

What’s that quote about “First they came for the…” Oh, yeah, Martin Niemoller’s poem. Would I ever have that info at my fingertips in the old days?

I have unbelievable access to shopping. Not just consumer crap (yeah, that too), but parts to repair my furnace, for example. Just search, download the manual, find the partslist in the PDF, match the broken part number, search for that part number, BAM, order. Two days later my furnace is fixed.

This access to information and things is fucking amazing. I am a superman beyond what was thought possible when I was a kid. I am not interested in losing my bionic ability.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It looks like you are trying to reach the website “blah_blah_blah.com” would you like help with that?

> yes

Ok then, you will need to contact your local representative and update your package selections. There are several options that could offer significant savings if you bundle websites. You could chose the News! package which is on sale thru the end of the month, we suggest bundling this with our FamilyFirst package. You’ll love it at only 99.99 /month

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Sometimes you have to destroy the village to save it.

That would fall under their planned effort to privatize cities across the country. Any city that does not meet their standard (a moving target) will be closed. Residents will be allowed to submit an application for attendance at an alternate (private) city if they are accepting applications and you meet their stringent requirements.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I hope it’s enough. There’s been a lot of misinformation spread about net neutrality, and some people seem to think that the term refers to new FCC rules. They don’t realise that it refers to the open internet that the rules were put in place to protect. Some of these people support removing net neutrality rules, thinking they’re preserving instead of killing it.

Like many things recently, we seem to be faced with a populace who have been lied into supporting the destruction of things they were wanting to protect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s not at all enough. The current Congress is riding a wave of conservative populism and right now, their constituency that put them there is euphoric that they’ve stuck it to the liberal left and want everything from the past 8 years reversed regardless of whether the law or regulation is positive or negative. To them, anything from the Obama years is automatically negative and needlessly restrictive.

Tech companies putting up road blocks are going to be seen by that same constituency as more liberal obstructionism and sour grapes (as most of them supported Hillary) and hostile to their agenda of a “Return to the Way Things Were” and “Limited Government”. So no. Google et al throwing hissy fits and blacking out their services for a day is going to be met with anger at THEM, not at the government by the voters that put the Republicans in office.

We’re looking at a management, financial, real estate sector “friendly”, and labor, environment, consumer “hostile” government for at least the next 2 – 4 years, if not 8 (it’s difficult to unseat a sitting President). And like every administration before it, privacy and rights hostile (regardless of party in power).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Looks to be more of a ripple than a wave.

Whilst some in politics focus on the ripple they created, becoming enthralled by and proclaiming its wondrous beauty … there is tsunami building behind them and it is gathering strength. Wonder what these fools will do when they see the water receding just prior to its arrival. They might proclaim it proof that climate change is a hoax because the water is not rising.

– hilarity ensues (even though it is gallows humor)

Anonymous Coward says:

if you want to help protect Net Neutrality you should support groups like ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Press who are fighting to keep Net Neutrality.

https://www.aclu.org/

https://www.eff.org/

https://www.freepress.net/

also you can set them as your charity on https://smile.amazon.com/

also write to your House Representative and senators

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?OrderBy=state

and the FCC

https://www.fcc.gov/about/contact

Anonymous Coward says:

With you until that last sentence

It’s certainly a wild idea, but Congress could put the issue to bed and prove it actually cares about startups, innovators and consumers — by leaving the existing rules alone, and moving on to other more pressing issues of the day.

Doing nothing would be better than reverting the FCC’s rule changes, but if Congress really wanted to prove it cares about the people harmed by a non-neutral Internet, it would pass a bill that is better than the FCC’s rules, rather than stand idly by and pretend that the FCC rules are good enough as-is.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: It's easier to get a stationary car to move the direction you want it to than one already moving the wrong way

‘Smart in general’, or even ‘Smart on a given subject’ does not make one immune from making bad decisions or arguments, and bad rules would be worse than no rules at all, because the latter at least would be easier to fix once there was enough pressure to do so, whereas the former would enshrine bad ideas into law which would have to be removed first, and you can be sure that the ones benefiting from those bad laws would fight tooth and nail to keep them in place(‘removing the current laws would upset the market, causing significant confusion and harm to customers!’) followed by fighting against the new laws.

timmaguire42 (profile) says:

A few years ago when net neutrality first started getting talked about, Mike penned a solid argument (this was before techdirt became a political rant site) that charging service providers for faster service constituted double dipping and was in violation of high speed contracts customers were signing and paying for.

That strikes me as the best avenue to go down–the legislature is fine, but that sounds like a long-term solution. Instead have the courts decide the issue under contract law.

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