Net Neutrality, What Now?

net neutrality

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The verdict is in.

As expected, the FCC voted (3-2) this afternoon to repeal the net neutrality rules that the Obama administration enacted in 2015. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, has long expressed his desire to repeal the current rules, even in the face of sustained public opposition that turned the wonky telecom policy issue into front-page news.

Grassroots efforts from a range of companies, organizations, and coalitions have played a large part in making this issue mainstream. A coalition led by public interest organizations, including several internet-based companies, designated July 12, 2017, as a Net Neutrality Day of Action. As a result, millions of comments were pushed to the FCC, along with millions of emails and calls to Congress. Larger technology companies have been quieter in their advocacy, either working through their trade group, the Internet Association, or issuing statements supporting a free and open internet.  

Those on the side favoring repeal of the rules include the larger internet service providers (ISPs). These providers have generally supported the idea of a free and open internet and promised not to block or throttle online content. Given that Chairman Pai is seen as more favorable to their views, the telecom industry approach hasn’t been as public at the grassroots level.

Post-FCC Decision: Next Steps for Net Neutrality Supporters 

Where do things go from here? It depends on who you ask. There are a few different avenues that supporters of net neutrality can take in order to restructure the rules that regulate the internet.

One approach is to take the issue to the courts and argue that the FCC decision violates federal law against agencies crafting “capricious and arbitrary” regulations. The legal route doesn’t naturally lend itself to grassroots advocacy efforts, so this part of the battle will be fought by telecom lawyers.

On the other hand, grassroots coalitions have an opportunity to raise the issue with Congress. To be clear, since the FCC is an independent agency, Congress can’t directly block its net neutrality repeal. But, because the FCC was created through an act of Congress, Congress can choose to pass a law on internet governance. Moreover, Congress controls the agency’s purse strings and could theoretically direct or withhold funds enforcing certain FCC provisions.

Members of Congress have long favored a legislative approach to net neutrality. Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has ardently supported this route. Thune, quoted in a USA Today article said, “Congressional action is the only way to solve the endless back and forth on net neutrality rules that we’ve seen over the past several years.” For those looking to where and how internet governance legislation could begin, look no further than Thune in the Senate.

In the House, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) plan to introduce legislation that would overturn the FCC decision. However, unlike Sen. Thune, since Reps. Doyle and McNerney are Democrats and don’t control the majority in either chamber, their potential legislation will likely face an uphill battle.  

Beyond Washington, advocacy organizations can look to influence state-level legislatures around net neutrality. Given the partisan gridlock on the federal level, state legislatures have sometimes taken up the mantle on issues that have stalled on the Hill. As state legislatures prepare for their 2018 session, look to states with a strong tech presence—like California—to be the ones to lead the charge. Check out our recent blog on state-level advocacy for more information on how to prepare for the upcoming legislative session.

Is There a Regulatory Path For Net Neutrality?

At the agency level, under the current administration, advocacy organizations supportive of net neutrality have no further recourse. Moving forward, however, individuals can direct any complaints they may have regarding their internet experience to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), although the FTC’s scope and authority differ from the FCC. While the FCC is similar to a cop enforcing rules of the road, the FTC is like the fire department, addressing issues after they happen. If internet users start to experience a noticeable degradation in their internet speed and quality, they can file an official complaint with the FTC, in the hopes that they will look into it and address the issue.

As organizations craft their advocacy strategies around net neutrality in the wake of the FCC decision, whether that be making their voice heard by Congress, state legislatures, or the FCC or FTC, Phone2Action’s suite of grassroots tools can be your number one asset in effecting change. 

Preparing for a separate regulatory battle? The Phone2Action platform can submit forms directly to targeting more than 300 agencies. Get ahead of the final decision and mobilize your supporters to push comments during your issue’s public comment period. Click here to learn more about how we can help organizations influence decisions made at the regulatory level.

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