Cancel the funeral and get ready to fight: Net neutrality is far from dead. Our elected officials in Congress have the power to reverse what is swiftly becoming one of the U.S. government’s most unpopular decisions ever. And if they don’t, they’ll pay for it come election season.
If you’re catching up: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just ignored historic levels of public outcry and voted to rip up the basic rules that protect free speech on the internet. Their decision breaks with more than 20 years of bipartisan policy, and hands cable and phone companies the power to control what we see and do online, opening the floodgates for new fees, slowed down access, and even outright censorship.
But 26 senators have already signed on to a Resolution of Disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a vehicle to overturn the FCC’s net neutrality repeal with a simple majority vote in both the Senate and House. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s increasingly within reach with Democrats in lock step against the FCC rollback and half a dozen Republicans already publicly criticizing the move.
Outside of Washington, DC, net neutrality is not a partisan issue. Voters from across the political spectrum overwhelmingly agree that they don’t want their cable companies controlling where they get news, how they stream music and videos, or which apps they use to pay for things, get directions, or communicate with friends and family.
But this FCC decision came from the darkest depths of the DC “swamp.” The guy in charge, a former top Verizon lawyer, openly joked about being a “puppet” for the industry. Someone funded what appeared to be a sophisticated operation to create confusion around the FCC docket by stuffing it with millions of fake comments using stolen identities. And the FCC refused to cooperate with an investigation.
Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T poured money into misleading advertisements, ghost written op-eds, and astroturf campaigns, to fool customers into thinking that they would voluntarily abide by the principles of net neutrality, even as they used all of their political power and influence to destroy it. They’ve been busy buying friends in Congress with ample campaign contributions, while pounding Capitol Hill with armies of lobbyists.
But after all of that, they’ve completely failed to build any real grassroots support for their attack on net neutrality, from the left or the right. And every member of Congress knows that.
75 percent of Republican voters support the net neutrality protections the FCC just slashed. Despite debunked conspiracy claims spread by lobbyists, tech-savvy libertarians and conservatives have been winning over their compatriots on the substance of the issue. Killing off net neutrality would be devastating for small businesses and startups. Comcast owns MSNBC. AT&T could soon own CNN.
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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai pointed the finger at companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, who many on both the right and left feel already have too much control over online speech. But the FCC’s vote only makes that situation worse. The agency’s move amounts to a crony-capitalist government handout to a politically influential industry, concentrating power in the hands of near-monopolies and giving them the ability to squash competition and silence free speech.
No matter how hard they try, telecom lobbyists will just never convince a meaningful number of Republican voters that killing net neutrality , and ending the internet as a free market of ideas, is a good thing. And that’s what gives us a unique chance to get our normally gridlocked Congress to take action and overrule the FCC’s politically toxic order.
Lawmakers in every state have been getting hammered for months with millions of phone calls, emails, protests, constituent meetings, media requests, and pressure from small businesses at volumes that just never happen. Net neutrality is becoming one of the most talked about political issues in recent human history.
The next phase of the fight will be the most important, and potentially the most dangerous. Already one of Big Cable’s best friends in Congress, Marsha Blackburn, who has taken more than $600,000 from the industry, is pushing for legislation that would permanently undermine the FCC’s ability to enforce open internet protections. This bait and switch has been in the works for months. The telecom lobby’s end game is to use the crisis they’ve created to ram through legislation that’s branded as a compromise but amounts to a fatal blow to net neutrality .
But that’s exactly why we need to push for Congress to overrule the FCC with a Congressional Resolution of Disapproval. We don’t need legislation that’s been watered down with kool-aid. The FCC did something that a supermajority of people in this country oppose. Our elected officials have to decide whether to rubber stamp that betrayal or overturn it.
The internet makes the impossible possible. If we harness our anger and direct it strategically, we can get the votes we need to restore the net neutrality protections that should never have been taken away in the first place. Any lawmaker who refuses to listen to their constituents will have to go on the record right before an election as having voted against the free and open web. They would be wise not to underestimate the internet’s power to hold them accountable.