The Fight for Net Neutrality Gets New Life

House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) announced Monday, that a new net neutrality bill will be introduced to the House on Wednesday. This follows a busy February when both the U.S. Court of Appeals and Congress took up the issue.

“The big deal is that all customers, all websites must be treated the same. No blocking or slowing of internet speeds. No selling faster access to those that can afford it. Our smallest businesses depend on it.” — Claudia Viek

On February 1st, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard opening arguments in Mozilla v. FCC. This case seeks to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s 2017 decision to end Obama-era net neutrality rules. The appeal was brought by a diverse coalition of consumer advocacy groups, tech firms including Mozilla, and state governments. The net neutrality rules or Open Internet Rules prevented Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from slowing, throttling or paid prioritization of websites.

The core of the argument is based on the technical classification of the internet and how strictly it should be regulated. The 2015 Obama-era rules classified the internet as a telecommunication service placing it under heavier regulation. The FCC under Trump reclassified the internet as an information service, relaxing the 2015 regulation.

A ruling is expected to take some time; meanwhile, federal level lawsuits against state net neutrality laws like California’s, have been put on hold. Attention is fixed on the Appeals Court.

Some members of Congress are also seeking a permanent solution to net neutrality. In February 7th’s Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing, three representatives expressed their desire to pass legislation around open internet. “We can agree on a permanent solution to address blocking, as well as throttling, and yes even the untested practice of paid prioritization,” Rep. Walden (R-Ore) said in the committee hearing. Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Communication and Technology Rep. Latta (R-Oh), Rep. McMorris Rodgers (R-Wa), and Rep. Walden have all introduced bills to codify net neutrality. The three pieces of legislation aim at making the internet free without the heavy regulation.

The text of the bill announced by Speaker Pelosi, known as the “Save the Internet Act”, has not been released, but it is thought that it will seek to reinstate Obama-era rules. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) will lead the Senate’s effort to pass the bill.

These bills are the latest attempts by legislators to find a permanent solution to internet regulation. Last May, a bill narrowly passed the Senate but failed to gain traction in the House. Both Republicans and Democrats support an open and free internet but differ on what that means and how to achieve it. Democrats want the telecommunication service classification that prevents ISPs from favoring one type of internet traffic over another. Republicans seek an approach with less regulation because they feel regulation will hurt the ISPs. Both sides understand that open internet is imperative for businesses across the country. Without web traffic neutrality, ISPs will have control over how the public accesses the internet. Without regulation, small businesses will lose their competitive edge on the internet.

The fight for net neutrality is progressing slowly, but is far from over.

Written by Jill Bletz, CAMEO’s Policy Fellow.