Effort to Shame Republicans for Killing Net Neutrality Gains Steam in the House

Ignoring the public’s will on net neutrality is going to be an issue in the midterms.

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Jul 17 2018, 6:50pm

Image: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Racheal E. Watson

Colorado Representative Mike Coffman is the first House Republican to break party ranks and support an effort to reverse the FCC’s historically-unpopular attack on net neutrality.

The Senate voted 52-47 last May to use the Congressional Review Act to restore the popular FCC rules, first passed in 2015 then repealed last November. The Senate vote required several Republicans, like Maine Senator Susan Collins, to break ranks in order to succeed.

The focus then shifted to the House, where net neutrality supporters need 215 votes to force the reversal. With Coffman’s vote, the number of supporters of the initiative now rests at 176. Net neutrality activists hope Coffman’s decision will encourage other Republican lawmakers to support the effort.

“The dam is breaking, as it should,” the ACLU said of Coffman’s move. “Rep. Coffman’s support to undo FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s repeal of net neutrality shows that public pressure is continuing to build on this issue and cannot be ignored this November.”

Net neutrality has overwhelming, bipartisan public support, since most people realize that a healthy, open internet free of giant ISP meddling benefits consumers and competitors alike. But ISPs have long succeeded in framing the debate as a partisan one to help stall progress, sow public dissent, and prevent legislative consensus.

Coffman issued a statement indicating he’d not only be joining the Congressional vote to restore the FCC’s rules, he’d be tabling his own net neutrality legislation.

The problem: analysis of Coffman’s proposed law shows it to be significantly weaker than the FCC’s original proposal, while failing to address numerous areas where ISPs behave anti-competitively—such as usage caps or the kind of interconnection shenanigans that slowed many Netflix streams to a crawl a few years back.

Coffman’s bill also isn’t likely to survive the House, thanks to ISP loyal lawmakers like Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who has been pushing her own, loophole-filled and ISP-approved legislation in an effort to prevent tougher state or federal laws from taking root.

“While my bill moves through the Congress, I am taking an ‘all of the above’ approach by simultaneously signing the discharge petition on the CRA, and introducing my bill” said Coffman.

To be clear, even with Coffman’s support, the gambit remains a decidedly uphill affair.

Should it pass the House, the proposal would still need to avoid a veto by President Trump, whose public statements have indicated he doesn’t actually understand what what net neutrality is. He’s largely relegated all authority on the matter to FCC boss Ajit Pai, whose disdain for consumer protections and public feedback is already the stuff of internet legend.

Still, Democrats hope that putting the issue to a vote will force ISP-loyal lawmakers to put their blind fealty to ISPs like Comcast to a documented public vote, something that’s not likely to earn Republicans any favors during the already contentious, looming midterm elections.

Should the CRA gambit fail, the next best effort to restore net neutrality rests with looming court challenges by consumer groups and small companies like Mozilla, who say the FCC ignored the will of the public, the insight of most experts, and all objective data in a rushed attempt to please Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.

ISPs are also facing efforts in more than half the States in the country to pass state level net neutrality protections. AT&T, Verizon and other providers have threatened to sue states that try to stand up for consumers, and cable providers like Charter are already trying to use the FCC repeal to claim states cannot hold ISPs accountable for terrible broadband service.

Should these efforts fail to hold ISPs like Comcast accountable, the next best hope for restoring net neutrality and a healthy internet rests with voting cash-compromised lawmakers out of office in the looming midterms and thereafter.