Democrats Hope to Restore Heavy-Handed Internet Regulations Through Senate Vote

The United States Senate voted today on a controversial measure designed to apply antiquated telecommunications regulations back on the internet. Democrats in Congress introduced a resolution under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which they hope will roll back Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order.

The Restoring Internet Freedom Order, in its turn, reversed the Obama-era rules classifying the internet services as 1930s-era telecommunications services under Title II of the federal Communications Act. If successful, the CRA would arguably restore the 2015 Open Internet Order, allow the federal government to heavily regulate internet service providers, and would prevent the Federal Trade Commission from protecting consumers.

As ALEC has previously noted, the debate regarding so-called net neutrality is not a policy debate. It is a political debate. The Title II portion of the debate asks whether the government should control the internet, including policing what may be said on it, or whether consumers should be able to direct their internet experience.

Those who favor government control, through the CRA, seeks to restore the federal government’s role controlling the internet, including where companies may spend deployment money, and how much they charge consumers for access packages. In the recent debate about the CRA, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer admitted that pro-Title II advocates need to restore government control so that the government can set acceptable internet access rates.

Efforts to reverse the FCC’s 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom Order would also create a void that will harm consumers. Through the Obama-era order, the FCC deprived the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of the authority to protect consumers’ privacy interests. The 2017 both restored the FTC’s authority and, ostensibly, strengthened it.

Using the CRA is an unfortunate political ploy. Rather than engage in policy debates, those favoring government control of the internet have elected to grandstand. The CRA is unlikely to succeed—if it passes the Senate, it will likely fail in the House—and it distracts from a long-term legislative solution.

Unless there is a legislative solution, the regulatory back-and-forth is likely to continue. An FCC controlled by a Democratic administration is likely to attempt to reinstate the burdensome Title II rules, while a Republican-controlled FCC is likely to respect Congress’s wish to have an internet “unfettered by federal or state regulations.” Legislation, on the other hand, will define the FCC’s role as well as the role of the Federal Trade Commission. Legislation will give internet access providers they certainty they need, and it will end the regulatory back-and-forth.

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