Immediately following the controversial move by the Federal Communications Commission last December to repeal net neutrality regulations protecting the “Open Internet Order,” U.S. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts sponsored a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would overturn the FCC’s move. Markey’s bill is gaining traction.
The Democrat is reporting to his constituents that 50 members of the 100 member Senate are now on board to restore the 2015 FCC regulations that protected “net neutrality” This means they are 1 vote away from a majority that could reverse the earlier controversial move by the FCC to give more control to the big internet service providers, by repealing Obama-era internet protections.
On December 14, 2017, the FCC — led by Trump-appointed chair, Ajit Pai — repealed regulations created to ensure that internet resources are freely accessible to everyone, and that internet service providers must treat all internet traffic equally. The move by Pai was part of his determination to “take a weed-whacker” to FCC restrictions, as he expressed it.
The repeal sparked many millions of public comments from concerned Americans, and outrage by critics who claimed that removing net neutrality would allow large telecom companies to control internet access, and limit users’ options for internet providers. Without net neutrality, internet providers could charge outrageous rates for service and slow down competitor sites.
Pai has also been criticized for policy changes that allow big broadcasters to increase their media ownership. Currently Pai is being investigated by the commission’s inspector general for pushing through changes in FCC regulations that advantaged the Sinclair Broadcast Group. One of Pai’s first policy changes was to repeal FCC regulations that limit the viewership a single media outlet could control. Pai’s advocacy for Sinclair would allow the broadcaster to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, expanding the company’s viewer reach to 7 out of every 10 households.
Although the Senate is close to a majority, there’s no guarantee of net neutrality returning just yet. Because of the likely legal battle ahead, states have been taking the protection of net neutrality into their own hands. 27 states currently have pending legislation: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Tech companies are also getting involved. On February 8th, the Internet Association — which represents Facebook, Amazon.com Inc, Microsoft Corp, Netflix Inc, and more — sent a letter to Senate leaders expressing their support for Congress restoring net neutrality regulations. They also emphasized the need for permanent legislation that would prevent any future uncertainty about the status of internet access:
“The internet industry urges Congress to legislate a permanent solution,” the letter read. “The time has come for a bipartisan effort to establish permanent net neutrality rules.”
Zoe Licata (Cambridge, Massachusetts)