Congress has a couple more weeks to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality rules

Net neutrality supporters have until the end of the legislative session to force a vote in the House to reinstate the 2015 net neutrality rules. 

It may not be too late to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality rules through a legislative loophole that allows lawmakers to undo federal regulation.

Monday was supposed to be the deadline for the US House of Representatives to gather enough signatures to force a vote on a Congressional Review Act petition that would roll back the FCC’s repeal of the popular 2015 rules. The CRA gives the House and Senate set periods of time to undo recently enacted federal regulations.

The Senate passed its CRA resolution in May. The House has until the end of the year to pass its resolution. Then it must it be signed by President Donald Trump to take effect, which many believe is unlikely given Trump’s penchant for reducing federal regulation.

Due to the rules in the House about when such petitions can be filed and because many had expected the 2018 Congress to end its session in early December, many believed that today, Dec. 10, would be the deadline for the House CRA to get a vote.

But thanks to the showdown between Democrats in Congress and Trump over a federal spending resolution to keep the government open, the 2018 Congress will likely be in session until at least Dec. 21, which is the new deadline for passing funding legislation. This gives net neutrality supporters more time to gather the 218 signatures needed to force a vote on the House floor, said a Democratic congressional aide who didn’t want to be named.

“Americans across the country, regardless of party, want and deserve strong net neutrality protections,” he said. “If 218 members agree that the CRA needs to be addressed this year, there are procedural mechanisms that can force a vote in the House.”

The FCC’s decision almost exactly a year ago today to repeal net neutrality rules has pitted internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast against internet companies like Facebook, Google and Mozilla and average internet users.  Net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally, regardless of whether it involves checking Facebook, posting pictures to Instagram, streaming movies from Netflix or streaming movies from Netflix or Amazon. Supporters of net neutrality say the internet as we know it may not exist much longer without the protections, but critics have said the rules stifled investment.

Supporters of the CRA to reinstate net neutrality acknowledge it’s an uphill battle that they’re likely to lose. The resolution needs 218 signatures in the House, but it currently has only 178 votes in favor. Still, supporters say they aren’t giving up hope. The grassroots group Fight for the Future organized its last online day of action in late November to get sites like Reddit, Airbnb and others, along with individuals, to contact congressional leaders to support the measure.

Last week, the group launched a website called DemsAgainstThe.Net, to essentially shame Democrats who they claim are “putting telecom giants’ interests ahead of their constituents.”

“It’s hard to think of a more nauseatingly clear example of the corrupting influence of telecom money in our democracy,” said Evan Greer, Deputy Director of Fight for the Future. “These Democrats have no excuse: their constituents want them to support real net neutrality and the entire rest of their party has already done so.”

Greer said that the issue is still gaining support. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat from Florida, announced last week her intention to sign on to the net neutrality CRA discharge petition. Her support came after Rep. Morelle, a Democrat from New York, signed the petition on Nov. 30.  

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, a Democrat from Pennsylvania who was just sworn in to Congress on Nov. 13 after a special election has posted on Facebook and Twitter about her general support for net neutrality. Constituents have been urging her to prove her support by by signing on to the CRA.

Still, supporters are likely to come up short. Regardless of what happens with the CRA, they say the fight for net neutrality is far from over. Several states, including California, have passed their own laws to protect net neutrality. The battle also rages on in the courts as supporters challenge the repeal. There’s also the possibility that a new Congress will draft new legislation to protect net neutrality.

“We’re entering 2019 in a strong position on the issue,” Greer said in an email. “The FCC repeal sparked an unprecedented cross-partisan backlash, and we’ve channeled that Internet outrage into real political power.”

She said her group and others will continue to fight at the state and federal levels and in the courts.

“Net neutrality will be the law of the land again,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time.”

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