In Battle Over Net Neutrality, It's Industry-Backed GOP vs. Civil Rights Groups
Republican efforts to overturn FCC regulations take shape, but face stiff opposition from grassroots groups
Less than a month after the Federal Communications Commission passed a set of groundbreaking net neutrality protections, both sides of the fight for the internet's future have thrown down their gauntlets.
Republicans are reintroducing previously abandoned legislation that could kill net neutrality protections before they take effect, in a maneuver which is unlikely to be successful, but will serve as, according to Politico's Tony Romm, a "new springboard for sustained political attacks on the White House."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told Politico on Friday that the team of GOP lawmakers who have banded together to oppose net neutrality rules is "simply trying to figure out the facts" of the FCC's decision to approve landmark open internet protections. That group is currently suggesting that the commission bowed to political pressure from President Barack Obama—a narrative that allows them to transform the fight against net neutrality into "the same sort of drawn-out controversy as Benghazi and Obamacare," Romm writes.
In that vein, the committee on Tuesday held the first of five hearings on the FCC's rules, which heard theories that chairman Tom Wheeler capitulated to the Obama administration's demands when he moved away from cable-friendly legislation and voted to protect consumer interests instead.
However, the anti-net neutrality lobby is up against several formidable opponents, spanning Democrats in Congress, government watchdogs, and civil rights activists, all of whom campaigned for more than a year for Wheeler to accept the most progressive proposals for internet regulations.
Matt Wood, policy director for media reform group Free Press, confirmed the organization's staunch support of net neutrality and criticized Republicans for their tactics on Tuesday, stating in a press release, "The phone and cable lobby and their allies in Congress need to stop spreading lies about the net neutrality rules."
"They're not Obama’s secret plan to take over the Internet," Wood continued. "They're not turning Internet access into a rate-regulated public utility and they’re not online censorship. They simply rely on the vital legal principles in Title II, adopted and updated by Congress on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis."
Similarly, more than 40 racial justice and civil rights groups sent a letter (pdf) to congressional leaders Tuesday morning to state their support of the FCC and object to the latest attempts to kill net neutrality regulations.
"It is critical that the FCC have the legal authority to protect the online digital rights of communities that historically have been marginalized in our society," the letter reads. "With such protections, our communities have been able to better participate in our democracy, tell our own stories, strive towards educational excellence and pursue economic success."
The letter continues, "We respectfully request that you join the millions of digital equality champions and support the FCC's historic decision, and reject any efforts to overturn and weaken the decision. You will be in good company, on the right side of public opinion."
Any Republican legislation that manages to pass Congress is almost guaranteed to be vetoed when it reaches Obama's desk, Romm continues.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) told Politico, "The Republicans have a coordinated approach opposed to net neutrality, and they don’t like our president, so they’re trying to wrap that into it. I’d say the chances of actually successfully pursuing a legislative effort to overturn what the FCC has done, I just don’t think it’s credible. It’s just shouting into the wind."