If all goes as the USbFCC's Republican commissioners planned, December 14 will be known as the day that net neutrality died in the US. But thanks to the mercifully slow gears of the federal bureaucracy, big changes don't happen immediately. On Thursday, the US Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality protections is scheduled to hit the federal register. Sixty days later, it will be official. But there's a lot happening in the meantime.
Assuming that everything goes on schedule, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's "Restoring Internet Freedom" order will be published in the federal register tomorrow and become formal policy for the agency sometime around April 23. There's no reason to believe that this FCC will reverse course on its own, but there are so many fights still to be resolved over the next year or so, and it's even possible that we won't have to wait until April to be reassured that all traffic on the web will be treated equally.
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon recently told Bloomberg that his philosophy for dealing with the media is "to flood the zone with shit" so that it's hard to keep up. It's easy to see how that philosophy transfers to the Trump administration's approach to most subjects, be it intentional or through incompetence. Pai's leadership at the FCC may be filled with corporate cronyism and a disregard for what the public wants, but among Trump officials, he's very good at flooding the zone with shit and pushing through his agenda quickly. Right now, he's moving to make access to broadband more difficult for the economically poor. Pay too much attention to that, and you might forget that the bad thing he did in December isn't done yet. So, we'd recommend you stay focused on at least a single date: February 27.
The US Senate currently needs a single additional vote to nullify the repeal of net neutrality by using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) — assuming it can pass the House and President Trump's veto. At the moment, all Senate Democrats have agreed to vote in favour of the repeal, leaving the vote at a tie. Vice President Mike Pence would be called on to break that tie, and he'd likely vote in favour of the FCC. So, the activists at Battle for the Net, along with a large list of high-profile partners, are organising a day of action on February 27.
Still, that measure faces hurdles once it moves from the Senate to the House, due to greater Republican representation in that chamber. Even if it fails, it's nice to be able to name and shame the people who opposed the CRA, then vote them out of office.
There's more good news in that over half of the states in the US are moving forward with their own net neutrality protections. California, New York, Montana, Hawaii, and Vermont all have legislation in the works that would preserve the internet that we know and hate to love. The FCC has said that states aren't allowed to pass their own net neutrality laws, but many are trying through various legal workarounds. And as of last month, 21 states sued the FCC to restore its original rules. We're also likely to see a flood of new lawsuits in the 10-day window following the publication of the new rules in the Federal Register.
Even if all of these measures fail, let's all go to our happy place and remember the FCC inspector general's corruption investigation into Ajit Pai's dealing with Sinclair Broadcasting. It's been all too clear that Pai is serving the interests of big corporations and he might have been doing it on their explicit instructions. There's time to fix the damage that he is doing, but it'd also be nice to see him held accountable for doing in private what's so obvious in public.