FCC's Pai Celebrates Sunset of Hill Effort to Nullify Net Neutrality Dereg

FCC chair Ajit Pai was hailing the failure of Congress to overturn his deregulatory Restoring Internet Freedom (RIF) order—the 115th Congress adjourned without the needed House approval of the Senate-passed Congressional Review Act resolution—while Fight for the Future, which backed the CRA, pledged to fight on.

“I’m pleased that a strong bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives declined to reinstate heavy-handed internet regulation," said Pai in a statement Wednesday (Jan. 2) as the old Congress officially wrapped up.

The Senate narrowly passed the CRA, but the House was well short of the requisite 218 votes needed, including some Democrats.

"They did the right thing—especially considering the positive results for American consumers since the adoption of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order," said Pai. "Over the past year, the internet has remained free and open. Broadband speeds are up, with download speeds in the United States increasing more than 35% in 2018, according to a recent report from Okla. Internet access is also expanding, and the digital divide is closing. For example, a recent report by the Fiber Broadband Association found that fiber was made available to more new homes in 2018 than in any previous year. In short, the FCC’s light-touch approach is working. In 2019, we’ll continue to pursue our forward-looking agenda to bring digital opportunity to all Americans.”

But opponents of the chairman's deregulatory order argue that ISPs are simply biding their time, the argument being that they would not immediately start blocking and throttling and prioritizing for fear of a D.C. backlash, but would instead ramp up efforts over time.

“I question whether or not chairman Pai understands how Congress works," said incoming House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), signaling the FCC chairman would have a fight on his hands from that quarter. "Republicans controlled the House last year and refused to even bring the CRA up for a vote because they were concerned it would have passed. The net neutrality repeal has been a disaster for consumers. It ignored the will of the American people and gave ISPs an opening to control peoples' online activities at their discretion. The new Democratic majority will work to restore strong net neutrality rules in the House of Representatives this year.”

The Republican-controlled Senate would have to go along, too, which is not impossible but not highly likely if those rules have to be based in Title II authority, as some Dems have said it must be to get their support.

"[T]he clock has run out for sitting lawmakers to sign on to the Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to reverse the FCC’s resoundingly unpopular repeal of net neutrality," said Fight for the Future, adding: "But the fight for net neutrality is far from over."

FFTF was not shy about branding those who did not support as in the pockets of Big Telecom (or "Big Info," depending on your view of how broadband should be classified): "Every single lawmaker who voted against the CRA in the Senate or failed to sign on to the discharge petition in the House has exposed themselves as industry puppets," said deputy director Even Greer. "They put the interests of telecom giants like Comcast and AT&T over the basic rights of their constituents."

Greer pointed out that with Democrats taking over key chairs, Pai will have to answer questions like what she says was the FCC's lying about an alleged DDoS attack on the net neutrality docket that didn't happen.

She also conceded it is an uphill battle. It is up-Hill as since the CRA was a fast track measure to nullify the Restoring Internet Freedom order's scrapping of rules, while congressional action would now have to be a bill restoring rules. But Greer said the fight would continue in "the courts, and in Congress."

A federal appeals court in D.C. is preparing to hear oral argument Feb. 1 on the challenge by various net neutrality rule fans to the FCC's RIF order.

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.