Net Neutrality Rules Publication Draws Crowd

Publication of the FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom order Thursday (Feb. 22) in the Federal Register triggered an immediate response from those looking to challenge the Republican FCC majority's decision to eliminate the 2015 Open Internet regulations, as well as from those who tried to do so from within.

The effective date of the order is listed as April 23, but the Register also says that the order, which actually comprises a declaratory ruling, an order, and a report and order, will become effective on an as-yet-to-be-announced date that will be set only after the Office of Management and Budget approves of the added reporting requirements of the enhanced transparency portion, which is integral to the enforcement of network neutrality -- by the FCC, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department -- absent the rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization and the general conduct standard.

An FCC spokesperson clarified that despite that April 23 effective date, nothing of substance takes effect until after the Federal Register publishes the OMB approval of the reporting requirements (assuming they are approved, as expected).

“The FCC’s net neutrality decision is a study in just what’s wrong with Washington," said Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who was passionately opposed to the order. "This agency failed the American public. It failed to listen to their concerns and gave short shrift to their deeply held belief that internet openness should remain the law of the land. It turned a blind eye to all kinds of corruption in our public record — from Russian intervention to fake comments to stolen identities in our files. As a result of the mess the agency created, broadband providers will now have the power to block websites, throttle services and censor online content. This is not right. The FCC is on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the law, and it deserves to have its handiwork revisited, reexamined and, ultimately, reversed.”

Fellow Democrat Mignon Clyburn was equally tough on the decision.

“Today it is official: The FCC majority has taken the next step in handing the keys to the internet over to billion-dollar broadband providers by publishing the 'Destroying Internet Freedom Order' in the Federal Register," she said. "I am both disappointed and hopeful. Disappointed that this is one more anti-consumer notch on this FCC’s belt, but hopeful that the arc of history is bent in favor of net-neutrality protections."

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, said: “With the official printing of the Trump FCC’s net neutrality repeal, Washington Republicans are one step closer to stripping control of the internet away from the American people and handing it over to large corporate interests,. Nobody should be able to influence what videos you watch, which sites you read and which services you use, but the Trump FCC’s action will take that decision away from all of us, jeopardizing free speech and small business innovation. The fight officially begins today to protect the free and open internet.”

Publication opens the window for legal challenges, as well as a Congressional Review Act resolution backed by Pallone and motormanned by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee, that would nullify the Restoring internet Freedom Order and return ISPs to Title II (common carrier) regulatory status.

Related: Why Do Democrats Want to Let Trump Violate Net Neutrality?

“Today marks another milestone in the Trump Administration’s attack on the free and open internet,” Doyle said. “With the publication of these rules, the FCC has taken another step towards stripping away the essential protections that make the internet an open platform for commerce, communication, expression, and innovation. Now that the order to eliminate net neutrality has been published in the Federal Register, the period of time in which legislation to overturn the order can be introduced has begun, and we can begin the legislative process to overrule the FCC and preserve net neutrality.”

Congress has 60 legislative days to nullify the decision. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is spearheading the Senate CRA resolution. The Senate CRA has 50 supporters -- it would need another vote to pass -- while the House version has 143 co-sponsors, so it still needs more Democrats and about two dozen Republicans. Both efforts are unlikely to succeed, but could generate buzz going into the midterm elections, where Democrats say network neutrality will be an issue.

"An open internet is absolutely essential to a functioning democracy, and we will fight to make sure that the people, not the special interests and their compliant FCC, have the final word on its future," said Michael Copps, former FCC commissioner and chair, and a special advisor to Common Cause. "Federal Register publication of the FCC’s net neutrality repeal does not mark the end of the fight for an open internet but just the beginning. Common Cause and its allies are fighting all the way to oppose the FCC’s misguided actions and restore the net neutrality rules through all fronts including litigation, state legislation and the Congressional Review Act.”

“Today, the national movement of students, entrepreneurs, innovators, technology companies, and fed-up consumers is putting the big cable and telecommunications companies on notice – we’re coming for our net neutrality and we will not stop,” said Markey. “The FCC and Chairman Pai just triggered a timeline that will culminate in a Senate vote on my resolution, and we cannot let up until we win. The internet doesn’t belong to big internet service providers and special interests who want to turn it into a toll road where consumers will pay more while the biggest corporations get to ride in the fast lane. With only 60 legislative days to find one more vote, I call on my Republican colleagues to join us and the vast majority of Americans who want the internet to remain free and open and a level playing field for everyone.”

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.