Efforts to reverse the FCC’s historically unpopular attack on net neutrality using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) have been stuck in neutral for several months, but activists are backing one last push in a bid to get the uphill effort over the hump.
The CRA lets Congress reverse a regulatory action with a simple majority vote in the Senate and the House (which is how the GOP successfully killed broadband consumer privacy protections last year). And while the Senate voted 52 to 47 back in May to reverse the FCC’s attack on net neutrality, companion efforts to set up a similar vote in the House haven’t gained much traction as the clock continues to tick. A discharge petition needs 218 votes to even see floor time, and another 218 votes to pass the measure.
Hoping to push the effort over the line and drum up the needed votes ahead of the December 10 CRA deadline, net neutrality activist groups like Fight for the Future are holding one last online protest on Thursday, November 29. This time around they’ve drummed up the support of numerous musicians and celebrities in the hope of getting the attention of a public that’s clearly weary of the entire debate:
“The effort is backed by musicians and celebrities like Hollywood star Evangeline Lilly (Ant-Man and the Wasp, The Hobbit, Lost), Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, and EDM star Bassnectar, along with startups and major web companies like online selling platform Etsy, delivery service Postmates, publishing platform Tumblr, Private Internet Access VPN, popular blog BoingBoing, domain registrar Namecheap, search engine StartPage, and speaker company Sonos.”
The problem, of course, is that all the public screaming in the world has yet to shift the thinking of well-lobbied net neutrality opponents in Congress, and adding Tom Morello or Sonos to the proceedings, while appreciated and notable, isn’t likely to move the needle much. Even if the vote succeeds, it still would have to avoid a veto by Trump. And while activists I’ve spoken to have argued that a House vote could appeal to Trump’s “populist” side and pressure him to let the restoration ride through, that’s simply not very likely.
That said, it was worth trying as a hail Mary pass anyway, and there’s absolute value in both naming and shaming corrupt lawmakers, something Fight For the Future has toyed with via crowdfunded billboards. There’s also value in keeping the issue in the public headspace ahead of next year’s Congressional battles. Still, users looking to this effort to actually restore the FCC’s rules should probably temper their enthusiasm. Our existing Congress has made its disdain for the public interest abundantly clear, and the real fight for net neutrality is next year.
The best chance at saving net neutrality rests with next year’s net neutrality court battle, the opening arguments for which begin next February. It’s there that a handful of companies like Mozilla, and 23 state attorneys general, will make their case that the FCC ignored the public and violated the Administrative Procedure Act in aggressively dismantling popular consumer protections, while basing their entire justification for the repeal on telecom industry lobbying bullshit.
Should the FCC lose that lawsuit, the agency’s 2015 rules would be restored — though Ajit Pai’s FCC isn’t likely to enforce them during his tenure (however long it lasts). Should the FCC and its ISP BFFs win that case, they still need to find a way to prevent a future FCC or Congress from passing net neutrality rules (or laws) with real teeth. That’s why companies like AT&T have been pushing loyal foot soldiers like Marsha Blackburn to table loophole-filled, fake net neutrality legislation with only one real purpose: preempting tougher state or federal rules.
But with a shifting Congressional makeup, and net neutrality supporters in Congress not eager to anger activists by signing garbage legislation, that gambit isn’t likely to succeed. The net result: like privacy, we’re going to need to have a real conversation about what a realnet neutrality law might look like. And it’s going to require a Sisyphean effort to prevent countless industries and their loyal political foot soldiers (with a vested interest in uneven playing fields and turf protection) from polluting the entire process.
While many are fatigued by the entire net neutrality fight, it’s worth remembering that net neutrality doesn’t just live or die based on the passage or restoration of rules or laws. It’s a never-ending fight that will continue for however long the broadband industry maintains a stranglehold on meaningful competition. Given telco upgrade apathy, 5G’s overhype as a competitive panacea, a growing cable monopoly over next-gen speeds, and Pai-era regulatory apathy, that’s a problem that’s not going away anytime soon.
Read more: techdirt.com