The FCC has announced that the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, a ruling that rolls back net neutrality regulations put in place in 2015, will go into effect on June 11.
The announcement comes on the heels of a move yesterday in the Senate to force a vote on repealing that same order under the terms of the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA allows Congress to overturn regulations within a 60-day legislative period. In this case, supporters of the vote are hoping that a majority of Senators will undo the FCC's ruling before it ever takes effect.
Democratic Senators are behind the latest CRA move, but they've also attracted Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins and Independent Maine Senator Angus King (who regularly caucuses with the Democrats) to their cause. That gives net neutrality advocates in Congress 50 "yes" votes. Typically, they would need one more to earn a majority and successful passage of the bill, but Republican Senator John McCain is currently on medical leave, giving proponents a possible slim edge within the governing body.
The problem for lawmakers supporting net neutrality, however, is what happens after the Senate vote. The bill would also need to go to a vote in the House of Representatives, where advocates acknowledge the challenge of earning 218 signatures on a petition to force such an event. Even if legislators in the House decided to vote and also pass their own bill to restore net neutrality, the legislation would ultimately end up on Donald Trump's desk, where it would have to survive a presidential veto.
There is little hope that net neutrality will make a legitimate comeback in the current Congressional environment -- especially before June 11 -- but advocates can use legislative maneuvers to keep the issue front and center in the news and also stick opponents with a record of voting against an issue that is highly popular with constituents.
Meanwhile, efforts continue in parallel to decide net neutrality's fate in court. There is a push to have the Supreme Court take up the issue, and several states are also suing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to put net neutrality rules back in place. A handful of states have passed executive orders requiring any companies doing business with state agencies to abide by net neutrality principles. (See Net Neutrality: States' Rights vs. the FCC.)
Evan Greer, deputy director of the progressive activist group Fight for the Future, suggests that publicity is an important part of the net neutrality campaign, and his team has helped lead widespread online protests around the issue. Greer noted yesterday in a statement that "This is the most important moment in tech policy since the FCC repeal, and everyone should be paying attention. This is the moment for the entire web to come together to fight. Net neutrality is not a partisan issue outside of Washington, DC. Now we need to get DC to catch up with the rest of the country."
On the other side of the proverbial aisle, Patrick Hedger, director of policy for the free-market think tank and lobbying group FreedomWorks, called the latest CRA move in the Senate "nothing more than a show-vote during an election year." He also poured criticism on Senators for forcing the vote, describing it as "a sleazy effort to score political points from America's general unease with technology policy at the expense of an ailing Senate colleague. Shame on them."
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Light Reading