Supporters Aim To Use Net Neutrality To Bludgeon Cash-Compromised Lawmakers In The Midterms

from the enjoy-the-backlash dept

We've already noted that the best route for killing the FCC's recent attack on net neutrality rests with the courts. Once the repeal hits the Federal Register in January or soon thereafter, competitors and consumer groups will be filing multiple lawsuits against the FCC. Those lawsuits will quite correctly note how the FCC ignored the public, relied on debunked lobbyist data, ignored the people who built the internet, and turned a blind eye to rampant fraud during the comment proceeding as it tried to rush through what may just be the least popular tech policy decision in a generation.

The hope will be to highlight that the FCC engaged in "arbitrary and capricious behavior" under the Telecommunications Act by reversing such a popular rule -- without proving that the broadband market had dramatically changed in just the last two years. They'll also try to claim that the FCC violated the Administrative Procedure Act, and even went so far as to block law enforcement investigations into numerous instances of comment fraud during the open comment period.

There is, however, another less likely route toward stopping the FCC's repeal of net neutrality. Since the vote, net neutrality advocates have been trying to pressure lawmakers into using the Congressional Review Act to roll back the FCC's repeal. Under the CRA, Congress has the ability to dismantle a regulatory decision with a vote on the hill, provided it's done within 60 days of the original regulatory decision. It's how the Trump administration killed broadband privacy rules earlier this year that were passed under the Wheeler FCC, and would have taken effect back in March.

Groups like Fight for the Future have been pushing hard to get enough Senators on board to reach the thirty-vote threshold needed to bring a broader CRA vote to the floor (last I checked, they had around 29 lawmakers on board). As such they've launched a new Vote For Net Neutrality effort intended to drum up public support for the CRA vote, while publicizing the countless Senators that are now-mindlessly beholden to every whim of entrenched telecom duopolists. The group suggests that while the effort may be somewhat Sisyphean, it remains possible:

"In the Senate, we may only need one more Republican to vote for the CRA to get it passed, given that Susan Collins (R-ME) opposed the FCC plan and signalled openness to a CRA. In the House, we'll need about 20 Republicans to listen to their constituents and vote for the CRA. That's harder, but several Republican representatives have already criticized the FCC's vote, and given that more than 75% of Republican voters support net neutrality, it's doable."

While well intentioned, this ignores the fact that Trump would still need to vote to seal the deal and kill the FCC's repeal, something that isn't likely to happen given everything we've seen so far. But net neutrality advocates know that forcing Senators to clearly put their name to a vote against net neutrality could prove immeasurably beneficial as a political cudgel ahead of the looming midterms.

That's because as we've noted repeatedly, net neutrality has broad, bipartisan appeal among voters. After all, our collective disdain for Comcast (and what passes for Comcast customer service) is one of a few subjects that tends to bridge the partisan divide. It has only been framed as a partisan issue by ISP lobbyists looking to foment dissent and stall progress. As such, it would be foolish to think that the FCC's decision to kill net neutrality won't have a notable impact on voter behavior (particularly among Millennials) as we head into midterm season.

So while overturning the FCC's repeal in the courts remains the best option, finding ways to publicize the grotesque fealty many lawmakers have toward some of the most-hated companies in America still serves a purpose. As we've noted, a big part of the broadband industry's lobbying agenda for 2018 will be the passage of bogus net neutrality legislation that will claim to "put the issue to bed," but will be exclusively focused on making the FCC's unpopular decision permanent. Purging at least a few of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast's mindless footsoldiers from Congress could go a long way in keeping that from happening.

It feels naive in 2018 to think that we can ever purge enough of them to actually pass a meaningful net neutrality law without numerous, idiotic loopholes, but a notable shift in the makeup of Congress could still be helpful in stopping the broadband industry's attempt to replace all meaningful oversight of the uncompetitive broadband sector with the policy equivalent of wet tissue paper.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2018 @ 12:23pm

    one step forward, two steps back - that's our new motto!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bruce C., 4 Jan 2018 @ 12:25pm

    Net Neutrality and Tax Cuts...

    Don't expect much traction on this from the Republicans. The recent tax reform law passed by the Republican majority is just like the promotional 6 month to 12 month discounts offered by the ISP/cable companies. After the special offer expires, the price gets jacked up. So it goes with the tax law: the reduced taxes for individuals are scheduled to expire in about 5 years, after which individual taxes are actually higher because the deductions eliminated in the tax law are not restored when the other provisions expire.

    So it's clear that they have no problem with the business practices of ISPs that aren't subject to net neutrality -- they use the same practices themselves. The corporate tax cuts aren't subject to the expiration "data caps" that he personal taxes are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 4 Jan 2018 @ 2:41pm

      Re: Net Neutrality and Tax Cuts...

      Quite likely, however as noted in the article the goal is less 'force the rules back into play via votes', as that's not likely to happen, and more 'force those in congress to put their names on their refusal to do so, and then use that in the next vote for congresscritters'.

      'But net neutrality advocates know that forcing Senators to clearly put their name to a vote against net neutrality could prove immeasurably beneficial as a political cudgel ahead of the looming midterms.'

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 5 Jan 2018 @ 3:55am

        Re: Re: Net Neutrality and Tax Cuts...

        That. I think stopping the Republican cancer from doing more damage before the mid-terms is hard at best, Sisyphean at worst. But if they are exposed in their behavior and sponsorship... at the very least there may be a big shift in the legislative side, which can help keep Trump and Pai at bay (among others we know are doing real damage in other areas).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Thad, 5 Jan 2018 @ 9:13am

          Re: Re: Re: Net Neutrality and Tax Cuts...

          The Senate still has filibuster rules and needs 60 votes to pass most legislation. This is unlikely to change; McConnell knows his party may be the minority by this time next year, and eliminating filibuster rules might come back to bite him.

          In other words, Senate Democrats can absolutely stymie Republican legislation for the next year. (Appointments are a separate issue; filibusters for appointments were removed under Reid, and Republicans are taking full advantage of the change, with Trump nominating a whole lot of federal judges and the Senate confirming most of them.)

          There are exceptions; the majority can use budget reconciliation to pass legislation with a simple majority. That can only happen once a year, and the Republicans have already used it for their 1% tax cut this year; they'll have another chance when the new fiscal year starts in October, but they're not likely to use it for anti-net neutrality legislation; they'll save it for some major Republican priority (especially if they lose their majority in November and are left with a two-month lame duck session to pass their remaining priorities).

          Right now the Senate is looking like a toss-up and the House slightly favors a Democratic majority.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jan 2018 @ 3:02am

      Re: Net Neutrality and Tax Cuts...

      Loyalty to party-line versus loyalty to constituents is a thin line for most politicians. Because the republican party is on the "economy over voters"-side of things on this issue, the possibility of making net neutrality an election-issue has got to be scary for many politicians.

      The campaign the ISPs and Pai have run for removing net neutrality is not even effective at convincing their target audience of libertarians and the alternative right.

      Since the republican politicians will have to put their vote down on this issue or abstain (which is essentially a nay for the process), the ones on the mid-term ballot will be hard-pressed to come up with an edible reason for that vote, making it a very real election topic.

      Granted, AT&T + their girl, miss Blackburn, can try to cement the issue by hurrying a bill on partial net neutrality, but that would likewise open their vote up to scrutiny.

      A tactical issue in politics is to push for important votes near an election and using the specific outcome as a lobbying tool to force the politician to choose between money in hand and votes. It only works in close elections, mind you, but the Trump-effects seem to actually be push more moderate republicans and independents to avoid voting, while it is invigorating leftist zealots and the targets of Trumps vitriol to vote in protest which has a tendency to narrow the campaigns to attract the majority, the somewhat moderate votes, and thereby making elections closer.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2018 @ 12:51pm

    This title was really hard for me to parse. Were they supporters of net neutrality? Supporters of the cash-compromised lawmakers?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 4 Jan 2018 @ 2:45pm

    So this is to say WE SHOULD get our respective states to pass strict net neutrality controls when able...

    Specifically ones that become active as soon as federal controls become weaker than them.

    And, ideally, they should be differently worded and organized in each state.

    Heck, it might be worth it to lobby counties and districts to pass such laws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Iggy, 5 Jan 2018 @ 6:04am

    We will be taking names

    In the US, we are constantly asked to do more and give more. In the past we have. So when we make a decision, at the will of the american people, about how to run OUR telecom networks, we don't expect those we've helped to target us. There will be a vote, and yes, the americans will be taking names.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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