What's next in the net neutrality battle?

Critics prepare to legally challenge the Restoring Internet Freedom order saying it will block certain data streams.

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    Advocates say they are 'up for' the challenge of restoring net neutrality [Chip Somodevilla/AFP]
    Advocates say they are 'up for' the challenge of restoring net neutrality [Chip Somodevilla/AFP]

    Fast Facts

    US legislators and digital advocates are coming together in plans to reverse the FCC's December decision to end net neutrality protections in the US. 

    Opponents of the US Federal Communication Commission's decision to end net neutrality on December 14 see promise in Congressional disapproval of the move.

    Dozens of Democratic and Independent senators have publicly condemned FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's Restoring Internet Freedom order, which allows for the slowing or "throttling" of certain digital services in favour of the prioritisation of others.

    Pai said the move would allow for greater competition among internet service providers (ISP) such as Verizon and AT&T.

    Critics say the end of net neutrality allows ISPs to charge consumers more for less.

    Hope in Congress

    Now, "the landscape has shifted to a Congressional Review Act resolution to remove Pai's rule", Pierce Stanely, a technology fellow at Demand Progress, a pro-net neutrality and civil liberties group, told Al Jazeera.

    Senator Edward Markey introduced the act on December 14, the same day the FCC voted to repeal the 2015 Open Internet order that protected net neutrality in the United States, and 26 senators have said they will support it.

    "We will fight the FCC's decisions in the courts, and we will fight it in the halls of Congress," Markey said in a statement.

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    The act can be applied after the FCC publishes the RIF in the federal register, a governmental journal that contains agency rules. Then Congress has 60 "legislative days" to enact the CRA.

    President Donald Trump, who appointed Pai to his post at the FCC, must sign the bill.

    Some have expressed concerns over attaining enough Republican support.

    "There's hope, certainly in the Senate," Stanely said. "We're going to need a handful of Republicans. We've already had a handful of Republicans put out great statements," including Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

    More popular with Republicans

    Collins, a "moderate" Republican who often votes against the Trump administration's legislative goals - but voted in favour of a major tax overhaul critics say disadvantages the working class and benefits the wealthy - released a statement on December 14 calling on the FCC to cancel the vote.

    Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday he would force a vote in the Senate. Stanley said this was "important, because it means [lawmakers] will have to take a stand" during an election year.

    Midterm elections will take place in 2018, and after Republicans lost a special Senate race in deeply conservative Alabama, many are projecting that Democrats have the momentum.

    Public approval of Trump's job as president is historically low and net neutrality is popular, according to polls.

    A Morning Consult poll released on Thursday showed that net neutrality is actually more popular with Republicans than Democrats, by two percentage points, 50 percent to 48 percent.

    Marsha Blackburn, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, introduced the Open Internet Preservation Act on Tuesday, though critics have said it is a "fake".

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    The bill doesn't address "paid prioritisation," which means richer companies can still pay to have their data in the "fast lane" of the internet.

    The legislation "opens the door to rampant abuse through paid-prioritisation schemes that split the internet into fast lanes for the richest companies and slow lanes for everyone else", Free Press Action Fund President and CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement on Tuesday. 

    Blackburn responded to criticism on Twitter, releasing a video saying paid prioritisation is still up for discussion and comparing it to next-day shipping.

    The bill "really lacks the fundamental guarantees to keep internet service providers" from advantaging certain data, Stanley said in response to Blackburn's explanation. "You can't do [net neutrality] halfway."

    Stanley reiterated his hopes for undoing the FCC's decision via the Congressional Review Act.

    If the CRA fails, other groups are planning lawsuits to challenge the new rules in court. The fight will stretch into next year, he said.  

    "It'll be a challenge, but we're up for it," Stanley said.

    The FCC declined to comment on efforts to reverse the December decision to end net neutrality.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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