The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published its final rules gutting net neutrality today. But like most phone announcements these days, there were no real surprises. We all knew what was coming.
Why the actual publication of the repeal matters is because it is only now that states and internet freedom organizations can start taking legal action. Plus, now the Senate has 60 legislative days to block the FCC if it is so inclined, which would require help from Republican senators. Do not hold your breath.
The document itself, while excruciatingly long and full of jargon, is rather polemical for an explanation of regulations in the Federal Register. This cascade of text is really just meant to communicate that the internet is not a public utility, that Title II doesn't apply, and that we're going back to how things were in 2015. That's more or less it. (Check out the editorial by AP's David Ruddock on why this remains a bad idea.)
But peppered throughout the document are expressions of self-righteousness that read like a campaign website's "issues" page that nobody reads. The Commission declares that it now "restores the light-touch regulatory scheme that fostered the internet's growth, openness, and freedom," followed with what sounds like a campaign promise: "to promote broadband deployment in rural America and infrastructure investment throughout the nation, brighten the future of innovation both within networks and at their edge, and move closer to the goal of eliminating the digital divide."
Wow! That's a lot of amazing things they will make happen by not doing anything!
That "light-touch" approach apparently does not apply to the states, which Republicans believe deserve more autonomy and less oversight from the federal government. Not so here. Pushing back against efforts to impose net neutrality at the state level, such as in California, they argue, "Regulation of broadband internet access service should be governed principally by a uniform set of federal regulations, rather than by a patchwork that includes separate state and local requirements." They then warn, "Allowing state and local governments to adopt their own separate requirements, which could impose far greater burdens than the federal regulatory regime, could significantly disrupt the balance we strike here."
Finally comes the line in the sand: "We therefore preempt any state or local measures that would effectively impose rules or requirements that we have repealed or decided to refrain from imposing in this order or that would impose more stringent requirements for any aspect of broadband service that we address in this order."
A little defensive, don't you think? I think.
The FCC promises a golden age of internet access now that the government is no longer being "burdensome," as they put it. But whatever one thinks of that idea and the FCC's new policy, the very fact that the document makes big, campaign-like promises that will result from an agency's inaction should give one pause.
And they're off! The Hill reports that 23 Democratic state attorneys general are jointly suing over the FCC's action, with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman leading the effort.
- Federal Register