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Despite Win in Court, Net Neutrality Facing Battles on Multiple Fronts

Critical open internet protection under attack by FCC and Republicans in Congress

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, Republican of Utah. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

Even as a federal court gives a boost to the legal underpinnings of net neutrality, the critical open internet protection faces parallel attacks from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and now Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Monday denied a request from telecommunication giants to rehear a challenge to the FCC's 2015 vote to establish net neutrality protections under Title II of the Communications Act. Instead, the court opted to uphold last year's appellate panel decision that net neutrality rules based in Title II authority are lawful.

Lisa Hayes, general counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the decision was "a win for consumers," while Matt Wood of Free Press called it "yet another recognition of how sound Title II is."

"The full D.C. Circuit has now agreed with the Congress that wrote the law in Title II, and with the prior FCC on the legal classification of internet access as a telecom service," said Wood. "That leaves only [FCC chairman] Ajit Pai, bought-and-paid telecom-funded economists, and the ISP lobbyists on the wrong side here."

Just last week, Pai made official his plot to dismantle net neutrality—a scheme motivated by "fantasies...of essentially unlimited profiteering by politically connected corporations," as columnist John Nichols wrote at The Nation. Digital rights and democracy groups vowed to fight Pai's assault, which will formally begin when the FCC votes on Pai's proposal on May 18. 

And they'll be fighting on multiple fronts, with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) having introduced a bill Monday that would fully "nullify" the FCC's net neutrality rules, according to The Hill, which noted that such a full-scale repeal "would be a worst-case scenario for Democrats." The bill, which has eight Republican co-sponsors, would also ban the FCC from issuing similar regulations in the future.

The senators' announcement of the bill repeats Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) assertion that net neutrality is "Obamacare for the internet." Last year, when Lee introduced almost identical legislation, VICE's Motherboard described it as "just the latest manifestation of a long-running Republican crusade to undermine the power of federal regulators to police corporate America."

"If you want a few unregulated monopolies and duopolies to stifle competition and control the future of communications, then this is the bill for you."
—Timothy Karr, Free Press

Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the Free Press Action Fund, said at the time: "We expect this bill to meet a fate similar to that of other failed congressional efforts to undermine the open Internet. But people everywhere who love the free and open Internet—and vote—should be very concerned that candidates making their case for running the country are so out of step with the public on this crucial issue."

Indeed, Free Press senior director of strategy Timothy Karr told Common Dreams on Tuesday, "If you want a few unregulated monopolies and duopolies to stifle competition and control the future of communications, then this is the bill for you. But if you think that essential communications networks deserve basic protections, then it's a wreck."

This time around, the legislation is likewise unlikely to gain traction in the Senate without any Democratic support. But its introduction is a reminder that the GOP's attack on net neutrality is multi-faceted.

"What Republicans in Congress and at the FCC are actually trying to do is declaw the one agency responsible for protecting the public interest in communications," Karr said. "Having lost their fight against net neutrality in the court of public opinion and the court of law, companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon are pushing Congress to introduce bills with phony internet-freedom sounding names. Don't believe the hype. The real intention of these companies is to end all effective oversight of their anti-competitive, anti-consumer practices."

And as such, Nichols wrote, "this is an all-hands-on-deck moment for every American who recognizes that the defense of net neutrality is an essential struggle for First Amendment rights in the 21st century."

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