Billshark promised to keep you apprised of developments on net neutrality, so we thought you should know about the latest actions on this important issue.
If you recall our most recent update, “Net Neutrality Fight Turns to California,” we reported that California had passed a law in September that went farther than any other state has so far in attempting to ensure net neutrality within its borders. (Net neutrality is the concept that Internet service providers [ISPs] should not be allowed to slow or block data based on content, or favor websites or video streams from firms that pay for preferential treatment.)
In addition to prohibiting ISPs from slowing or blocking websites or charging extra for priority service, the California law also prevented them from charging customers for exemptions to caps on their data use (known as zero-rating).
The U.S. Justice Department under President Trump immediately filed suit to block the new law. The Trump administration does not favor net neutrality and last year reversed Obama-era rules that implemented net neutrality nationwide. At the same time, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) barred states from enacting consumer protections in the area of net neutrality.
California strikes a deal
Late last month, California agreed not to enforce their new net neutrality rules, which were to take effect on January 1, in exchange for the Justice Department postponing its lawsuit against California until a separate case involving the FCC is settled. That case was brought by consumer rights advocates appealing the FCC’s original decision to suspend net neutrality. The decision, in that case, would likely impact Justice’s suit against California, but as Wired noted, “That could take years.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a statement on the deal. “I am pleased that California has agreed not to enforce its onerous Internet regulations,” he said. “This substantial concession reflects the strength of the case made by the United States earlier this month.”
Proponents of net neutrality were putting the best face on the agreement.
Scott Weiner, the state senator who co-wrote the legislation, told The Washington Post, “Net neutrality ensures open access to the Internet and guarantees that each of us can decide for ourselves where to go on the Internet, as opposed to [ISPs] making that decision for us. I look forward to successful litigation on this issue and to the restoration of strong net neutrality protections in our state.”
A spokeswoman for Common Cause, the government watchdog group, told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s disappointing that the law won’t go into effect in January, but we’re hopeful that the D.C. Circuit will vacate the FCC’s unlawful repeal so we can return to a framework that ensured the Internet remained open to everyone,” Kati Phillips said.
Meanwhile, at the Supreme Court . . .
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the broadband industry’s challenge of the Obama-era rulings. Even though Trump’s FCC had already reversed those rules, AT&T et. al. wanted a definitive ruling that would prevent future administrations from championing net neutrality, in effect reversing the current FCC’s reversal. The case was rejected on a technicality. Four of the nine justices must agree to hear a case. Three refused to hear the case and two—John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh—recused themselves due to personal interests in the case.
Thus, the battle will go on, including through the case brought by consumer rights advocates, as noted above.
Michael Copps, Former FCC Commissioner and Common Cause Special Advisor said in a statement: “The Supreme Court’s decision is push-back against FCC Chairman Pai’s effort to get rid of net neutrality. Although his majority at the Commission has repealed the net neutrality rules, today’s decision should weaken those who are contesting the now-binding 2016 D.C. Circuit Court’s decision upholding the rules. Proponents of Pai’s repeal—monopoly phone and cable companies—are on shakier grounds than they thought as they try to dismantle an open Internet.”
Why net neutrality matters
Pai and the major telecommunication companies including Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T, have frequently cited net neutrality regulation as “a solution in search of a problem.” The giant ISPs claim they never-ever-ever would take advantage of their controlling position over the Internet to benefit themselves. Really? Do a quick search on “net neutrality violations” for examples in which they already have, from Verizon in 2007 blocking pro-choice text messages, to AT&T’s 2012 blocking of Apple’s FaceTime video chat app unless customers paid extra, to AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon blocking Google Wallet from 2011 to 2013, because it competed with their own mobile-payment system, Isis.
The examples are legion, and there’s no reason this past bad behavior wouldn’t continue into the future, without strong regulations preventing it.
In addition to those instances of their strong-arming of customers and content providers, if ISPs are allowed to charge companies higher fees for faster service, those fees will eventually be passed on to you.
So this is an important issue to everyone who uses the Internet in any way. Billshark will continue to monitor the situation and update you on news in this area.