Rollback of Net Neutrality to Move Forward Next Week
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by Countable | 5.12.17
On Thursday, May 18, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold a vote to formally propose its unwinding of the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules. While it won’t mark the end of the process — the newly proposed rule will need to go through a public comment period before it’s finalized — it will be a milestone in the regulatory rollback of net neutrality, which also faces a looming threat from Congress.
What is net neutrality?
It’s the term applied to the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet rules, which classified internet service providers (ISPs) as common carriers and prohibited them from blocking content, throttling traffic based on content, or being paid to prioritize certain content through "fast lanes." The FCC used Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which was originally enacted to regulate the Ma Bell telephone monopoly during the Great Depression, to justify the rules which have so far survived legal challenges.
Supporters of net neutrality believe that the rules are essential to keeping the internet free and open, and that all content on the internet should be treated equally. They say that won’t be the case if ISPs are allowed to prioritize certain content relative while slowing content from other sources.
Detractors say that net neutrality stifles innovation that would allow ISPs to find ways to better deliver services like streaming video. They call fears that ISPs will block content unfounded, because consumers would then choose rival ISPs with better offerings, and that the internet has always been open to all — even before net neutrality came into being two years ago.
What’s happening at the FCC next week?
In an open meeting, the FCC will vote on what’s called a "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking," which is basically an official announcement and explanation of the agency’s plan for the regulation that undoes net neutrality, the “Restoring Internet Freedom” rule. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has advocated for the new rule, and the two other commissioners will vote on it, at which point it will be published in the Federal Register and opened up for a public comment period before the rule is potentially amended and finalized.
It should be noted that as of today, the FCC’s commissioners entered what’s known as a "Sunshine Period" in the buildup to Thursday’s meetings, in which public comments and presentations to commissioners are temporarily suspended so that they have time to reflect for themselves on the upcoming agenda. This period will end when the FCC releases its official plan on Thursday, or if the Restoring Internet Freedom rule is removed from the agenda.
What’s happening in Congress?
Lawmakers are also eager to get in on the repeal of net neutrality, viewing legislation as a tool to prevent the FCC from re-imposing similar net neutrality rules in the future and a complement to regulatory action. In recent weeks, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced the Restoring Internet Freedom Act that would accomplish both the repeal of net neutrality and prevent the FCC from reinstating the rule without Congress’s approval.
While his plan has the backing of 10 Republican senators who signed on as cosponsors, it may not end up being leadership’s preferred bill on the issue. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD), whose committee has jurisdiction over communications issues, is drafting legislation that he hopes will gain the bipartisan support needed to get the 60 votes required to pass the bill in the Senate.
Click below to read and vote on Sen. Lee’s bill to repeal net neutrality, or use the "Take Action" button to tell your reps what you think.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Public Domain via Pixabay)
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