Endgame Nears for Net Neutrality Rollback

Washington — Activists finally have a firm target for the rollback of Federal Communications Commission network-neutrality rules, and are also celebrating the launch of the congressional gambit to undo that Restoring Internet Freedom order.

Absent some miraculous turnaround of votes, come June 11, internet service providers will no longer be subject to the Title II-based net-neutrality rules imposed by the then-Democratic controlled FCC in 2015.

ISPs contend it will essentially be a distinction without a difference — they will promise not to block, throttle or anti-competitively prioritize internet traffic, pledges that are enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission. One big distinction will be that ISPs no longer face the potential of common-carrier rate regulation as a way for the government to advance broadband adoption, though at least one senator suggested that should be on the table.

Senate Democrats signaled there could be a vote as early as this week on their Congressional Review Act resolution to nullify the Restore Internet Freedom order and preserve or restore the net neutrality rules.

In a bit of synchronicity, the Senate has until June 12 to vote on the CRA measure — one day after the rules rollback goes into effect — though the House must vote on it as well.

It is definitely possible that the CRA will indeed pass the Senate. It is one vote short, but if the ailing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) doesn’t vote, it would squeak by. At last whip count, though, the House was at 160 votes — it would take 218 to pass. Regardless, and certainly reading the writing on the wall, Democrats were suggesting a backup plan.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) made clear there was value in a CRA defeat as well, with regard to midterm elections. The CRA is a chance to get all the senators on the record as either for or against a free and open internet, he said.

“I cannot think of an issue that polls so decisively on one side,” Schatz said. “People underestimate the passion of internet voters at their peril.”

Of course, even if Democrats won both houses and tried to legislate new rules, President Donald Trump could veto the bill.

The most likely outcome is the CRA either fails or squeaks through in the Senate, then dies in the House.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, was talking up bipartisan legislation last week that would ban not only blocking and throttling, but paid prioritization. That differs from a Republican House net-neutrality bill that would allow for pro-consumer paid prioritization.

Banning paid prioritization definitely sweetens the pot for Democrats, but may still not be enough for those wedded to a Title II approach, which the Republicans aren’t signing on to.   

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.