Wyden, Other Senators Warn That Net Neutrality Repeal Will Make SOPA Backlash Look Like A Fireside Snuggle
from the put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is dept
We've repeatedly noted how for some stupid reason, net neutrality is treated as a partisan issue in Washington -- with Democrats (generally) in support, and Republicans (generally) opposing the idea. It's an absurd, myopic paradigm given the fact that net neutrality has broad, bipartisan consumer support. Most people want the internet to function as a relatively-level playing field. Everybody wants to be able to access the content and services of their choice without interference from the likes of Comcast and AT&T, who seem hell bent on using their monopoly over the last mile to their anti-competitive advantage.
With the looming specter of a net neutrality rule repeal under Trump, the GOP, and new FCC Boss Ajit Pai, a number of Democratic Senators (including Ron Wyden and Ed Markey) held a press event (video) warning that if the GOP and FCC try to repeal net neutrality, it will result in a "political firestorm" they may not be entirely prepared for. The Senators were quick to recall that roughly 4 million consumers reached out in support of the FCC's net neutrality rules a few years ago, a number Markey proclaimed would look "miniscule" in comparison to the looming backlash against the rules' repeal.
Markey's office also issued a statement saying that he'd fight tooth and nail against repeal of the rules, in whatever form that arrives:
"Despite what the cable companies and Republicans say about net neutrality, there is nothing broken that needs fixing,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “I will oppose any regulatory efforts, including repeal, forbearance, interpretative rule, or refusal to enforce existing rules, as well as any legislative efforts to undo or roll back the Open Internet Order. We stand united in this fight to ensure that all Americans have access to a free and open Internet."
While it's true that the backlash to an attack on net neutrality could make SOPA and PIPA look like a beach-side picnic, the repeal won't arrive in the way the agency's rules first arrived. With the process of repealing the rules within the FCC's existing regulatory framework a giant bureaucratic headache that would require another very public comment process, the ISPs (and the politicians that love them) likely have another tactic in mind -- at least based on my 20 years, ten hours a day, of watching the telecom sector (and every other industry) dominate both parties of Congress.
At first, that will involve having Pai simply refuse to enforce the rules as they exist now (which we already saw with Pai's decision to scrap the FCC's zero rating inquiry). Pai's job in this stage play will be to pay empty lip service to things like the digital divide, while generally keeping the FCC focused on bland, non-controversial policies until the real hangman (a campaign-contribution soaked Congress) arrives.
From there, the GOP has quietly been making it clear they want to push a Communications Act rewrite that will focus on rolling back the FCC's classification of ISPs as common carriers under Title II, therefore obliterating not only net neutrality -- but the FCC's ability to act as broadband watchdog entirely. This being a new, charming post-truth era, this assault on net neutrality, broadband provider oversight and accountability will most likely be dressed up as a massive boon to job creation, broadband expansion, and the nation's puppies.
Expect it to be named something along the lines of The Making Broadband Great Again Act of 2017.
This bill, whether it comes as a Communications Act rewrite or some other bill, will also probably claim to put the net neutrality debate to bed by including a few net neutrality restrictions even large ISPs don't actually care about (like banning them from outright blocking websites). What it won't do is address any of the hot-button areas where the net neutrality debate is occurring right now, like zero rating, interconnection, or the use of usage caps and overage fees. Given it will certainly be written in part by AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Charter lawyers, it will just as certainly contain other loopholes to ensure their satisfaction.
Whatever this bill winds up looking like or is called, it will be (and already is on some fronts), portrayed as a "compromise" that Democrats will be told they must support if they're to be considered "serious" in their pledge to protect net neutrality and the public at large. But given the goal of removing oversight from the likes of Comcast, the bill itself will likely hurt more than it helps, and if these Democratic Senators actually want to show they have anything resembling a spine, they'll need to stage fierce opposition to the bill to prove their dedication to a healthy internet is more than just smoke and mirrors.
In light of a Congress that long ago made it clear that it prioritizes telecom cash contributions over consumers, the best "solution" for net neutrality at this juncture would be leaving the existing rules -- and the FCC's authority over broadband providers -- intact.