The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to repeal net neutrality rules on April 23. The agency formally published the final notice of the repeal in the Federal Register on Thursday, starting a 60-day countdown until net neutrality is eliminated.
But net neutrality supporters still have a chance to turn things around. Dozens of organizations are expected to challenge the repeal in court, and Democrats have been pushing for a special congressional vote to block the Restoring Internet Freedom Order from going into effect.
Democrats, along with two independents and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), so far have 50 votes in the Senate – one vote shy of overcoming the Republican majority. If Senate Democrats succeed, a measure would still have to pass in the House of Representatives. And even if it does, President Donald Trump would have the power to veto it.
Attorneys general from more than 20 states have filed lawsuits to block the repeal of net neutrality, and public interest groups have filed petitions in court. The publishing of the final notice on Thursday means these parties have a 10-day window during which they must refile their lawsuits.
In December, the Republican-led FCC voted to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules, which ensure that internet service providers treat all online traffic equally. The rules prohibit companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from charging customers for access to “internet fast lanes,” and also from slowing down or blocking access to certain websites or services.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla
The primary fear among net neutrality supporters is that, without the rules, internet service providers could abuse their power as “gatekeepers” of the internet. In theory, service providers could choose which companies succeed and fail.
For example, let’s say Verizon starts its own streaming service. It would have many competitors. But without laws that require Verizon to treat all online traffic equally, what’s to stop it from giving its own service the fastest connection, while slowing down others?
Companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter support the rules. But internet service providers argue that net neutrality is bad for business and that it discourages investment.
The rollback of net neutrality at the federal level might not make a difference in some states, however. The governors of New Jersey, Montana, and New York have already signed executive orders that effectively establish net neutrality principles at the state level.
It’s a somewhat ironic development. Republicans, who support states right and have opposed net neutrality, could soon find themselves in a position where states rights are working in favor of an issue they oppose. Other blue states might follow suit if the repeal of net neutrality goes forward on April 23.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat who supports net neutrality, said she’s “both disappointed and hopeful.”
“Whether it is litigation, state action, or some other mechanism that brings it about, I am sure that robust net neutrality protections will prevail with the American public.”