The 2018 Net Neutrality Fight For An Open Internet Still Needs Your Help
If you thought that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s Dec. 14 vote to roll back Obama-era net neutrality regulations meant the end of the fight for an open internet, you were wrong. The battle continues and has been taking on new frontiers — like states who are trying to fight the net neutrality repeal in 2018. So buckle up, because there are still many ways you can fight to save net neutrality and prevent big telecom companies from slowly taking control over the ways you use the internet.
"Net neutrality" describes conditions under which internet service providers (ISPs) cannot prioritize certain kinds of web traffic, either by outright blocking some content or by slowing it down to encourage consumers to choose another option. Without these regulations, it's feared that ISPs would prioritize content in which they have a vested interest, speeding up their own websites or streaming services and slowing down competitors.
Proponents of net neutrality argue that it puts more agency into the hands of consumers and benefits small online businesses that don't have the resources to pay for prioritized service from ISPs. If all of that sounds good to you, it's time to take action. Whether or not you were involved in the efforts last year to stop the FCC from repealing the net neutrality rules, you can still help the cause now. Here's how.
Battleground 1: The State Legislative Front
California, New York, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Washington, and Rhode Island have introduced legislation to protect the open internet on the state level. Places like Illinois and North Carolina are considering similar bills. Of course, it's tricky to try to regulate broadband internet on a state-by-state basis because internet service is constructed across borders. State laws could find many ways to navigate this issue: California's bill, for example, would apply to ISPs that either provide service within California or use the state's resources to offer service elsewhere.
A major roadblock here is that the FCC's new net neutrality rules actually forbid any state action that interferes with them. "We ... preempt any state or local measures that would effectively impose rules or requirements that we have repealed or decided to refrain from imposing in this order or that would impose more stringent requirements for any aspect of broadband service that we address in this order," reads the FCC ruling.
But many legislators argue that the commission doesn't have the right to prevent states from making their own laws. They point to an example in 2016 in which the FCC similarly tried to preempt some new state laws that limited the expansion of broadband networks and a federal court blocked the commission from doing so. If these state net neutrality laws pass, it's possible that the courts would again decide that the FCC has no authority to stop them.
How you can help: If your state is on that above list, contact your state government officials and encourage them to pass the introduced legislation. If not, contact them to demand to know why they aren't pushing anything forward.
Battleground 2: The Federal Legislative Front
The Congressional Review Act (CRA) allows Congress to discard rules passed by an executive agency within 60 days of the rules being entered into the federal register (which, in the case of the FCC net neutrality rollback, has not yet happened). Each chamber can pass a reinstatement resolution with just a simple majority, and there's a strong movement in Congress being led by Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) to do just that.
There's reason for at least some hope that this could succeed. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) just signed on, meaning that the resolution could have 50 votes of support right now, assuming that all Democrats would vote for it. If one more Republican defects — which is possible, especially considering the fact that net neutrality has such wide bipartisan support — the resolution could pass the Senate. But passing the House will be more difficult because Republicans have the majority there by 24 seats. And even if the resolution did succeed in the House, it would still have to secure President Trump's signature, which is unlikely.
Still, Republicans, knowing that the open internet is so popular, may be more likely to vote in favor of net neutrality with the midterm elections coming up.
How you can help: Call your members of Congress at (202) 224-3121 to ask where they stand on the resolution to bring back the net neutrality rules. Let them know that they'll have your support if they vote for the resolution. You can also email or text your representatives and find other ways to pressure them through the organization Battle for the Net.
Battleground 3: The Legal Front
This one's a bit further off because it can't actually occur until the new net neutrality rules become law. The rollback won't be official until it's inserted into the federal register, but once it does, the lawsuits can begin. Over 12 attorneys general from around the country have already committed to suing the FCC over its net neutrality rollback, including New York, Washington, and California.
Since the lawsuits haven't yet been filed, we don't know the legal justification that will be used to challenge the FCC's decision. But some attorneys general have made it clear that they will be questioning the transparency of the FCC's process, which is supposed to be guaranteed. Millions of the messages that were submitted to the commission's website during its open comment period were found to have been created using fake identities, for example.
How you can help: Contact your attorney general and either tell them that you support their existing commitment to sue or want them to commit to suing the FCC.
You can also donate to organizations like Public Knowledge that are leading the fight against the net neutrality repeal.