The battle for a free internet lives on! In theory, anyway!
In actuality, the 2015 Obama-era order known as Net Neutrality — which prevented big telecommunication companies from creating an internet in which they could decide which sites loaded faster for you, or loaded at all for that matter (a seemingly small thing with big-time implications for freedom of information, and a free market for competition from startup apps, ideas, companies, and the like) — is still repealed, and will likely stay that way. (You may remember last year when the FCC, headed by Trump appointee Ajit Pai, issued regulations that overturned Net Neutrality.)
But #NetNeutrality started trending today after Senate Democrats revealed they were just one vote away from passing an act that would begin the process to overturn the FCC's order to end Net Neutrality. (Without getting overly technical about it, this would be through something called the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, which allows Congress to overturn rules issued by the regulatory agencies like the FCC by a simple majority vote. Since the FCC just formally published their rule last week, Congress has 60 days to overturn if, if it can get the votes.)
People are psyched because, in his op-ed for Wired, Senator Chuck Schumer revealed Democrats need just one more Republican to join their cause (they've already locked in Rep. Sue Collins of Maine). So the race is on!
Except, it's not that simple. (With government, it never is.)
Don't want to rain on anyone's parade too much, but here's the reason this Senate announcement won't wind up with a total repeal of the FCC's new rules: Even if the Senate gets that second Republican to defect, the CRA then goes to the House (where the Democrats have only 150 of the necessary 218 votes). And then, even if the Democrats were to pull off the highly unlikely move of getting the sixty-some-odd Republicans to defect for the House vote, the CRA would THEN go to Trump's desk, where it would certainly be vetoed.
But still, the Senate Democrats' quixotic campaign to overturn the FCC's new rules is a win, no matter what. Because while today's Net Neutrality excitement doesn't mean the 2015 version of the internet will come back anytime soon, it is absolutely a sign to legislators and the world alike that Americans still care about this issue. And that with constant pressure, at some point, the rules will be revisited. Just like Net Neutrality went up in 2015, and down in 2018, it will take a change in government to see it go up once more.
So what affect has the Net Neutrality appeal had so far? We actually won't know, fully, for some time yet, as the FCC's rules don't fully take affect until sometime from now — a batch go live on April 23rd, but most of it is awaiting approval from the Office of Management and Budget. (This is a formality, in that the OMB's approval is certain, but it means the full scope of this post-Net-Neutrality world is yet to be known.)
One thing we have seen is called "zero-rating," which allows data companies to offer you free data if you use certain services. While "free data" sounds like a good thing, it also means that those data companies can then create a version of the internet where their services load faster while all competing ones are rendered useless. In this way, telecommunication companies can start a plot to monopolize the means of services — or perpetuate the dominance of already-entrenched services who have the money to pay-to-play and secure access.
It's the internet version of payola, and while it's not a certainty, it's at least a possibility. And in the capitalist way, if it's a possibility, it will be exploited at some point.
This is why we keep saying: The midterms matter. Who you got?