The net neutrality rules established in 2015 were a triumph decades in the making, but their undoing was rather a quick bit of work. So it is hoped, by Democratic leadership in the House and Senate, that it will be equally quick to nix the new administration’s rules and restore the old ones — via a very simple piece of legislation known as the “Save the Internet Act.”
Announced by a group of lawmakers Wednesday morning, the act is a very straightforward one. As Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) noted: “This is a two page bill. A two page bill! It has all the clarity in the world.”
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Indeed its important portions fit comfortably in a block quote (with some very minor formatting):
The Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order, and Order in the matter of restoring internet freedom that was adopted by the Commission on December 14, 2017 (FCC 17–166) shall have no force or effect.
The Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order, and Order described in paragraph (1) may not be reissued in substantially the same form.
The following are restored as in effect on January 19, 2017: (1) The Report and Order on Remand, Declaratory Ruling, and Order in the matter of protecting and promoting the open internet that was adopted by the Commission on February 26, 2015 (FCC 15–1924). (2) Part 8 of title 47, Code of Federal Regulations.
That Part 8 is the transparency rule added to the FCC’s 2015 rules, technically separate but effectively part and parcel. You can read the rest of the bill here (PDF).
Re-establishing the 2015 rules and zapping the new ones is a quick fix that gets everyone on the right page, moots a great deal of hullabaloo and controversy over the comment process, the technical underpinnings of the Restoring Internet Freedom rulemaking, and so on. The law is hard to mistake: out with the new and in with the old.
What it doesn’t do is address the issue at the heart of the problem: that the laws governing the FCC and defining internet communication for the purposes of regulation are quite out of date. It is the ambiguity in critical portions of the Communications Act (and its major 1996 overhaul) that enable the FCC to pick and choose which industries it regulates.
The FCC’s argument, at the center of the 2017 rule, that broadband isn’t telecommunications is supported by almost no experts whatsoever, yet as an expert agency it can decide such technical matters on its own. If Congress were to establish a law clarifying that, however, it would remove the Commission’s freedom in this matter and constrict it to operating as the law dictates.
That’s not the law being proposed today; such a bill would need to be very carefully researched and written, and these things take time. But the “Save the Internet Act” is a good stopgap, since it puts the necessary rules back in place and prevents a similarly flawed replacement from being substituted. That’s enough for now.
It has a very good chance of passing through Congress as-is, but of course faces a hostile President whose own administration put the changes being reversed in place. It seems unlikely to be approved at the Executive level, but it’s worth a try.