This Net Neutrality Update Could Bring Back The Open Internet

by Sarah Beauchamp
Omar Havana/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Monday, top Democrats announced a new update in the net neutrality debate. Fifty lawmakers have endorsed a resolution to restore Federal Communications Commission net neutrality regulations, after the agency voted to repeal them in December 2017. Now, Democrats just need one more vote in order to pass a Senate resolution of disapproval, which would reinstate an open internet.

Net neutrality regulations made it so no internet provider could prioritize one site over another. Some Republicans argued that the net neutrality rules were too restrictive for businesses, while Democrats believe they provide much needed protection for consumers. Without net neutrality, internet providers can restrict the information you have access to and even charge you for using certain services like social media.

"With full caucus support," Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said on Monday, "it's clear that Democrats are committed to fighting to keep the Internet from becoming the Wild West where ISPs are free to offer premium service to only the wealthiest customers while average consumers are left with far inferior options."

This latest resolution would overturn the FCC's decision to repeal net neutrality and prohibit them from passing these kinds of repeals in the future, the Washington Post reported. Currently, 49 Democrats support the resolution, and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins. In order for it to pass, they need one more Republican Senator to sign on. Then, it would need to pass the Republican-majority House and President Donald Trump before it took effect.

Following the FCC's decision in December, lawmakers have a window of 60 legislative days to reverse the ruling under the Congressional Review Act. In the past week, 10 more lawmakers have joined the resolution to repeal the FCC's decision.

The net neutrality rules that Democrats are fighting to protect were put in place under the Obama administration in 2015. They prevented companies like AT&T and Verizon from blocking or slowing certain Internet content. They also banned them from prioritizing certain content and charging extra for increased speed.

Not having net neutrality rules will also affect phones. For example, in 2009, well before these regulations were put in place, Apple was caught blocking Skype calls at the request of AT&T because the wireless provider wanted consumers to pay for more expensive, oversees plans. Apple also agreed to not allow apps on the iPhone that stream live television, because AT&T claimed it would strain its network.

A lot of mobile carriers, like most ISPs, fought back against the FCC's decision to implement net neutrality, according to Wired. Verizon even sued the FCC, claiming the regulations were illegal. Meanwhile, the Free Press argued the rules weren't stringent enough to protect wireless customers. This has been the ongoing debate between consumer advocates and those working for the broadband providers.

Some internet service providers (ISPs) have argued against net neutrality regulations because they claim they prevent them from expanding their customer base and developing innovative business models. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has also argued that net neutrality hurts small ISPs, but data shows otherwise. "One constant theme I heard was how Title II had slowed investment," Pai said. Title II is the legal foundation on which the FCC first passed the regulations.

Pai has repeatedly asserted that repealing net neutrality will lead to broadband companies investing more. But according to Business Insider, there hasn't been a marked decrease in broadband investment since these rules were implemented. In fact, a study by the consumer advocacy group Free Press found that broadband investment had actually increased since 2015.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the first lawsuits against the FCC's decision could come in the next few weeks. A vote on the Congressional Review Act, which will determine if the FCC's decision is overturned, could take place as early as this summer.