Senate Action on Net Neutrality Could Change the Debate

All 49 members of the Senate Democratic caucus have expressed support for a resolution to save Net neutrality, introduced Wednesday by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass, under the Congressional Review Act. The CRA is a legislative tool that lets Congress reverse federal regulations via a simple majority vote.

For the resolution to become law, it also would need support from a majority of House members as well as the president’s signature.

“Today kicks off the most important week for the Internet that the Senate has ever seen,” Markey said.

“By passing my CRA resolution, we restore the rules that ensureAmericans aren’t subject to higher prices, slower Internet traffic,and even blocked websites because the big Internet service providerswant to bloat their profits,” he added. “This upcoming Senate votewill be our opportunity to save Net neutrality and deliver the digitalfuture that Americans deserve.”

The Federal Communications Commission voted late last year torepeal the 2015 Open Internet Order, which prohibited Internet serviceproviders from blocking or even slowing down online traffic.Supporters of Net neutrality have argued that the repeal could lead to higher prices as well as slower Internet traffic, and even blockage of some websites.

Full-On Red Alert

Several top-visited websites — including Etsy, GitHub, Mozilla, Reddit,Pornhub and Tumblr — on Wednesday announced their support for the Red Alertfor Net Neutrality project, an effort organized by activist groupsincluding Demand Progress, Free Press Action Fund and Fight for theFuture.

Red Alert is similar to past efforts to support Net neutrality, but so far has been far lower key than last year’s Net neutrality day of action. That effort was supported by major tech giants including Amazon, Facebook and Google.

The campaign is a way to drum up public support — and with it, the potentialto garner legislative support from across the aisle.

The U.S. Senate is just the first hurdle to clear to keep Net neutrality in place.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has co-sponsored the measure, and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, has pledged his support.

“Markey’s effort could well succeed in the Senate if CRA advocatestake advantage of Senator McCain’s medical absence,” said JessicaMelugin, associate director of the Center for Technology and Innovation at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“In any case, this CRA is most likely DOA in the House,” she told the E-Commerce Times, and it’s hard to see President Trump signing the reversal of an effort he supported and undercutting the efforts of an FCC Chairman he put in place.”

If Trump should veto it, the two-thirds of Senate votes needed for an override likely would be unattainable.

Given all that, there really isn’t much hope for Markey’s resolution to become law.

“It’s a nice piece of political theater in the U.S. Senate — andtheater is an important part of our political process — but even if itpasses, it’ll die in the House of Representatives,” said Stephen Blum, principal analyst at Tellus Venture Associates.

Still, even as political theater it could have lingering effects.

“It will raise public awareness and heat up the discussion, but won’thave a direct effect on Net neutrality regulations,” Blum toldthe E-Commerce Times.

“The main event will be at the D.C. federal appeals court, where Netneutrality advocates will try to get the court to put the FCC’s orderon hold while appeals are pending,” he added. “It’s still a long shot,but it’s the best shot they have before June 11.”

Net Loss

The lingering question is what exactly will the Internet look like come June 11?

“Assuming it’s not put on hold, when the FCC’s order takes effect thebig ISPs will start to move toward paid prioritization — in otherwords, selling fast lanes to online service companies — ‘edgeproviders,’ as they’re called,” said Blum.

“Blocking and throttling probably won’t happen, because it’s notnecessary if someone pays for a fast lane,” he added.

“Consumers should look for the return of fast lanes — and of course,slow lanes — which will cost many companies, but will alsoultimately cost consumers and restrict the free flow of informationacross the internet,” said Michael Fauscette, chief research officerat G2 Crowd.

Net Gain

The winners — should Net neutrality be overturned — could be the big ISPs such as Comcast, Charter, AT&T and Verizon, said Blum.

Add to the list the big established Web platforms such as Netflix — and even supporters of Net neutrality such as Google and Facebook could be seen in the winner’s column.

“They can bear the cost of paid prioritization,” said Blum.

New, innovative and competitive companies could find themselves at adistinct disadvantage.

“The Internet will no longer be an even playing field where smallcompanies can successfully challenge the big ones,” Blum said.

“Back in the day, that’s how two small startups, Google and Facebook, took on the market leaders, Yahoo and MySpace, and won,” he noted. “Paid prioritization puts market controlling power back in the hands of a relative few companies. It’ll be a return to the managed content business of the 1980s and 1990s.”

Not So Fast

However, keeping Net neutrality in place could come at a cost for many.

“Large, established content providers would like to see the Netneutrality regulations banning paid prioritization put back in place,as they would prefer to keep end users as the ISPs only source ofrevenue,” said CEI’s Melugin.

“If the regulations are brought back, broadband providers will sufferfrom fewer options in experimenting with different businessarrangements with end users and content providers,” she pointed out.

“This could impact the profitability of investment in broadbanddeployment and may lessen the incentive for them to expand andinnovate,” Melugin suggested. “Consumers, especially those in underserved areas, stand to lose if the regulations are reinstated, as that could deter investment inincreased broadband capacity and new service areas.”

Political Ramifications

This move may turn out to be far more than theater in the political sense.

“The Democrats are making Net neutrality a signature issue in thisyear’s campaigns, which elevates it out of the geek realm,” said Blum.

That could change the dynamic in terms of how companies support or oppose Net neutrality, suggested Blum, as it will be “much harder for lobbyists for AT&T, Comcast and Charter to kill the Net neutrality revival legislation pending in California.”

Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and Peter.

1 Comment

  • Truly hope the Senate come up with an answer to many of the concern that comes with the repeal if it goes through on June 11. I hope they are able to keep the Net fair and neutral for all. Let’s keep the playing field for small and big businesses and the flow of information open for blocking, no restriction freedom to access information from wherever.

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