The process that will lead to a definitive vote in Congress on an open Internet begins this month. Opponents to an open Internet have made clear that despite the support from AT&T and the cable industry, they intend to invoke the nuclear option known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA). They have stated, despite significant corporate support (and significant dissent from public interest groups) that the Federal Communications Commission’s open Internet rules resemble George Orwell’s 1984 Big Brother. That is quite the departure from our perspective that the FCC rules appear barely adequate.
Watch the House Energy and Commerce committee in the coming weeks to witness the initial assault on an open Internet. Committee leadership has made clear that this will be their first Internet policy hearing and that they will hold a CRA vote in the House of Representatives with a Senate vote to follow. Even with a presidential veto, a successful majority vote in Congress to end an open Internet will give political coverage to a future Senate appointed FCC to end rules on its own. Given how a CRA repeal vote works, it is virtually guaranteed that these votes will happen and soon.
Basically the CRA is an expedited tool used by Congress to repeal rules issued by federal agencies. It requires action by Congress within 60 business days after the rules are published and allows for 30 Senators to force a vote in the U.S. Senate without a filibuster and without a hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee. The CRA has been invoked a number of times but has only been successful once, in 2001. The other thing a CRA repeal of network neutrality rules would do, if enacted into law, is permanently prohibit the FCC from EVER creating rules to protect an open Internet again until Congress passes a new law (subject to 60 votes in the Senate). This would not only be a dramatic change in the status quo, it would be the foundation upon which an open Internet would end.
Remember that prior to the FCC’s rules, major broadband access providers knew that the FCC could always take action and have lobbied Congress and the FCC heavily in hopes of ensuring that the FCC rules would play out in their favor. Even Verizon was for an open Internet before it was against it. However, if Congress enacted a CRA repeal of the open Internet rules, the deterrence against broadband providers desire to end an open Internet would be completely eliminated. The major broadband access providers (with the exception of Comcast for the next seven years) would be given the green light to block online video, redirect you to their search engine of choice, and begin full-fledged paid prioritization for everything within the Internet ecosystem for increased profits. There would be no federal entity the public could demand action from on behalf of their interests.
We here at Public Knowledge intend to fight against the CRA repeal and will be calling you on to stand up for Net Neutrality in the coming days and weeks to call your Member of Congress to tell them to vote against repeal. Your help will be essential in the first step in this process because only 100 members of the House of Representatives are on record supporting Network Neutrality, and more than 170 are not on record. Therefore, I encourage you to please sign up for the PK mailing list and our new PK Mobile Action Alerts so that we can keep you up to date on what is happening in Congress and so you can help make February the month that the Internet saved net neutrality.