No matter who wins at the polls, the fight for net neutrality rages on. Here’s what’s coming next
It’s election day, and there’s a lot at stake. We can’t solve all of our problems at the ballot box. But it’s crucial that those who believe in Internet freedom show our elected officials that we’re paying attention to their positions and we vote.
This post is a little long, but we wanted to make sure that everyone understands what’s coming next in the fight for net neutrality — in Congress, in the courts, and in the states.
No matter who wins, when the dust settles and the votes are counted, the battle for the future of the free and open Internet will rage on. Here’s what’s coming.
Regardless of which party wins at the polls, we need to hit the ground running the day after election day. As we enter the “lame duck” session between the election and the end of the year, we’re fast approaching the deadline for the House of Representatives to pass the Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to reverse the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. They only have until the end of this Congress, and the House is expected to adjourn as early as December 13th. So we’ll have just a few short weeks to mount a massive pressure campaign and make net neutrality a top issue for lawmakers to address before leaving.
The CRA resolution already passed the Senate with bipartisan support, and more than 170 Representatives have signed on to a “discharge petition” in an attempt to force a vote in the House. Even if we can’t get all 218 votes we’d need to pass it, the CRA is the most powerful tool we have to get more members of Congress — both Republicans and Democrats — on the record in support of strong net neutrality rules, which will be essential for any future fight on the issue.
That’s why we’re looking past election day and planning one more big Internet-wide day of action for net neutrality at the end of this month before time runs out for this Congress to act. We’ll be calling on major websites and ordinary Internet users alike to flood lawmakers with phone calls ahead of the deadline. For those who were re-elected, we need to show that we plan to hold them accountable. For those who were unseated, we need to make this a legacy issue and show them that unless they support the CRA before they leave office, they will go down in history as one of the politicians that helped hasten the death of the free and open Internet.
We’re running a major crowdfunding campaign to make this epic push possible, backed by some of your favorite websites and folks like Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, actress Evangeline Lilly, and EDM star Bassnectar.
Regardless of what happens with the CRA, we’ll have a fight on our hands when the new Congress takes office in 2019. We’ll have to continue staving off bad legislation. That remains the biggest threat. Comcast and AT&T’s lobbyists would love to use the vacuum created by the FCC repeal to ram through trojan horse legislation that’s billed as a “compromise” but actually undermines net neutrality permanently. It’s important to remember that in 2020 a new FCC could undo the damage Ajit Pai has done. But if legislation filled with loopholes for ISPs to abuse passes in the meantime, it could be close to impossible to repeal.
By going on the offense and fighting for the CRA, we’ve successfully stymied the telecom industry’s grand plan and kept bad legislation in check. That’s a huge victory in and of itself, and the fact that we’ve picked up bipartisan support in both chambers dramatically changes the battlefield we’re fighting on. We need to stay on the offense as long as we can, and gain as much ground as we can in Congress, so that we’ll be in the strongest position possible when we enter the next phase of the fight.
Telecom lobbyists hoped to finish out this year with no rules at the FCC and having rammed through bad legislation that undermined net neutrality for good. Instead, we got a bipartisan majority in the Senate to rebuke them, a badass law on the books in California (more on that below), legislation pending in dozens of other states, and major lawsuits hanging over their heads. All of that combined means that companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T know that everyone is watching them. Net neutrality is now a household word. It’s in Burger King commercials and on Jimmy Kimmel. We’re turning that awareness into political power. Together, we’re holding these powerful companies in check while we fight to restore the rules that prevent them from upcharging, throttling, censoring, and manipulating what we see and do online.
In the States:
In the months since the FCC repeal, dozens of states have introduced net neutrality legislation of their own, and several governors have signed executive orders requiring ISPs with state contracts to abide by open Internet rules.
We won an epic victory in California when the state legislature voted with overwhelming bipartisan support to pass SB 822, widely seen as the strongest and most comprehensive state-level net neutrality bill in the country. AT&T and other big telecoms spent enormous amounts of money trying to stop the bill, but we beat them with a combination of grassroots organizing, constant constituent pressure, Internet-savvy, and crowdfunded billboards. The bill is already having an impact, forcing Comcast to stop abusing its power during interconnection agreements.
We knew when we started fighting for the California bill that the big ISPs would sue to strike it down. They want there to be NO net neutrality rules anywhere, so they’ll use their lawyers and lobbyists to challenge every victory. The bill is currently “on pause” while the Federal net neutrality lawsuit goes through the courts. While Ajit Pai tried to claim that as a victory, the reality is that it was an expected outcome. While SB 822 will still have to face litigation, the fact that it passed in a state as large as California still has a significant impact. It’s one more thing for the ISPs to contend with and one more reason for them to behave.
It’s also a reminder that we can fight for net neutrality at the local level, so be sure to tell your state legislators you want them to do what California lawmakers did. We need to get strong legislation passed in as many states as possible while we continue fighting to restore net neutrality at the Federal level.
In the Courts:
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai used to be a top lawyer for Verizon. Under his leadership, the agency railroaded through its repeal of net neutrality, and actively sabotaged its own public comment process. The entire repeal was blatantly corrupt and illegitimate. The FCC was caught red handed lying to reporters about a DDoS attack that never happened, did nothing to address fraudulent comments, and openly ignored all evidence and public opposition. Fortunately, their repeal has to stand up in court in order to remain in effect, and its chances are pretty shaky.
A lot of people were confused yesterday by headlines saying that the Supreme Court had “ended the net neutrality debate.” That’s not what happened at all. SCOTUS declined to hear a challenge brought by the telecom industry that was attempting to erase a previous court’s ruling in favor of net neutrality protections. That’s a good thing.
But in practice, what this — and the delay in California — both mean is that the legal fight over net neutrality is going to play out in the DC Circuit Court, which has previously upheld the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order in 2016. Because of Ajit Pai’s recklessness and open abuse of the process, net neutrality advocates have a really good chance of winning. But the courts move slowly, so it could take months or years. That’s why it’s so important that we keep fighting in Congress and in the states in the meantime. We need to keep the issue in the spotlight and keep the telecom giants on their toes, to prevent them from rolling out fast lanes and slow lanes and other anti-consumer scams.
A final word:
Wow. You made it through this, which means you are a diehard supporter of the free and open Internet. It’s because of people like you that we’ve made it this far. Together we’ve made net neutrality the first tech policy issue ever to break through into the cultural mainstream and become talked about as a factor in national elections. We’re in this fight for the long haul, because we believe that decisions that affect the future of the Internet also affect the future of humanity. The free and open web is the most effective tool we have to expose corruption and hold powerful people and institutions accountable. That’s worth fighting to defend. And while the road ahead is long, we’re already winning.
If you want to support our crucial work, please chip in at DonateForNetNeutrality.com, where your donation will be matched 100%. Every little bit helps.