REPEALING NET NEUTRALITY IS EASY. REPLACING IT WILL BE HARD

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THE AFFORDABLE CARE Act isn’t the only Obama-era regulation Republicans aim to repeal and replace. Net neutrality, which Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) once famously called “Obamacare for the internet,” is on the agenda as well.

The Federal Communications Commission is well on its waytowards repealing its existing net neutrality rules, which ban internet service providers from blocking legal content, slowing down specific connections, or charging tolls for so-called “fast lanes” on the internet. But the “replace” half will fall to Congress. And that’s going to be much harder.

This week House Committee on Energy and Commerce chair Greg Walden (R-OR) reportedly sent letters asking several companies to testify before Congress about net neutrality on September 7 of this year. Walden invited broadband internet providers like Verizon and Comcast as well as content companies like Facebook to share their ideas about how Congress should go about replacing the FCC’s rules. But it will take more than just a hearing on Capitol Hill to work out a compromise.

The FCC passed the first version of its Open Internet Order, designed to protect net neutrality, in 2010. The agency was almost immediately sued by Verizon, which argued that the agency didn’t have the authority to enforce its rules. A federal court agreed, ruling that the FCC would need to reclassify internet service providers as “Title II common carriers” if it wanted to impose its regulations. The agency did just that as part of its expanded version of the Open Internet Order early in 2015, following a massive push from net neutrality advocates.

Now that the FCC’s Republican commissioners are in the majority at the agency, they’re working to overturn at least parts of the Open Internet Order. The Republicans have the votes to pass their agenda, and because they’re not directly elected they don’t have to worry much about the public outcry in support of net neutrality. But even if the FCC wins the court battle that will likely ensue, it’s not the end of the net neutrality debate.

One of the few things that both Democratic and Republican voters agree on, according to recent polls, is that net neutrality should be protected. Even Verizon and other internet service providers now say they’re fine with the idea of rules banning blocking and throttling content, but say that classifying them as common carriers was a step too far. Instead, they say that Congress should pass a bill that would enshrine net neutrality into law without requiring common carrier status for broadband providers.

There are a few ways to do this. One would be for Congress to give the FCC explicit permission to impose net neutrality rules without resorting to Title II classification. Another would be to assign responsibility to the Federal Trade Commission, instead of the FCC.

The problem is that Democrats and net neutrality advocates don’t like either option. Reclassifying broadband providers as common carriers gave the FCC the authority to do much more than just stop internet service providers from blocking content. It also allowed the agency to police obscure but important agreements between internet service providers, subsidize internet access for the poor, and push for more competition between broadband providers.


Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/repealing-net-neutrality-is-easy-replacing-it-will-be-hard/

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