60-Day Clock Starts for Net Neutrality Supporters

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New Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules rescinding net neutrality were published in the Federal Register on Thursday, kicking off a 60-day comment period before the new rules become effective.

The comment period broke out of the gate with a lawsuit from a group of 23 state attorneys-general filed in federal court seeking a review of the new rules. Two Democratic senators, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, are planning to launch a bid for public support to get a vote in Congress on the new rules under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

The CRA allows Congress, by a simple majority vote of both Houses, to overturn a rule issued by a federal agency. The president also must sign the resolution overturning the rule. In this case, neither the Senate nor the House is likely to get to vote on a CRA, and it’s nearly a lead-pipe cinch that the president wouldn’t sign it in any event.

Under rules adopted by the FCC in 2015, all internet traffic is treated equally and it is not legal for an ISP to offer faster speeds in exchange for higher payments. The internet, in effect, is regulated as a common carrier.

The new rules reverse the common carrier designation and allow internet service providers (ISPs) to be “transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate,” according to FCC Chair Ajit Pai, who proposed the new rule that was passed by a vote of three to two on a straight party-line basis.

FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat who opposed the new rules, wrote at the time:

When the current protections are abandoned, and the rules that have been officially in place since 2015 are repealed, we will have a Cheshire cat version of net neutrality. We will be in a world where regulatory substance fades to black, and all that is left is a broadband provider’s toothy grin and those oh so comforting words: we have every incentive to do the right thing. What they will soon have, is every incentive to do their own thing.

The FCC will be fighting opposition on many fronts, and it is not a given that the agency will prevail. But 60 days is not a lot of time and the clock is ticking.