Killing Net Neutrality Again?

The current FCC repealed the net neutrality rules earlier this year, with that repeal going into effect last month. In a move that is a head-scratcher, the Department of Justice recently filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking them to squash a lower court ruling in favor of net neutrality.

The original net neutrality rules were implemented by the FCC in 2015. The FCC’s order relied upon the use of Title II regulations as their authority to pass those rules. AT&T and other opponents of the ruling immediately appealed the FCC’s action, and in 2016 the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC had the authority to invoke Title II. The same opponents of net neutrality appealed that decision to the whole Circuit Court, and in 2017 the court refused to take the case, thus upholding the 2016 decision.

The Department of Justice is now asking the Supreme Court to overturn the 2016 order that upheld net neutrality. It’s an unusual request because net neutrality has already been repealed by the FCC, so it seems like the issue is moot.

Nobody is sure about the reason for this filing, because neither action or inaction by the Supreme Court would realistically change anything. The Department of Justice argues that it is cleaning up loose legal ends. Proponents of net neutrality say that it’s an action to make it more difficult for a future FCC to reinstate net neutrality. They say that the administration is trying to kill a precedent that could be used by a future administration to reinstate net neutrality.

What’s most interesting about the whole net neutrality fight is that both the past and current FCC have had to get creative to first pass the net neutrality rules, and then to repeal them. What’s been missing in this fight is a Congress willing to vote on the issue, because legislation would put the issue to rest. The messy court battles over net neutrality for the last decade are all due to a Congress that won’t weigh in on the issue.

The FCC is mandated to follow the direction of Congress. It seems unlikely that net neutrality is ever going to come up for a vote in Congress. Polls have shown huge public support for net neutrality with various polls over the last few years showing support between 76% and 85%. Nobody in the GOP wants to go on record as opposing the issue.

We are badly in need of a new Telecom Act. Many of the rules that govern the FCC are far out of date. We need to fix cable rules that are massively out of synch with a world of on-line content. We need updated privacy laws that deal with current technology. And we need to know definitively if Congress thinks that we should or shouldn’t regulate some aspects of broadband.

But we’re not likely to get a new Telecom Act to a vote since net neutrality is going to get dragged into any discussion of new regulations. That means we’re likely to see the FCC continue to deal with current issues for which they have no direction of basis of action. That can only result in an FCC that grows gradually weaker and ineffective in its ability to tackle the communications issues that we need to face.

What we don’t need is a government that is looking backwards and wasting legal resources to kill a court order for an issue that has already been decided by the current FCC. This is one of the dumbest and most wasteful court actions I’ve ever seen in the industry. We don’t need to fill the over-busy courts with frivolous lawsuits – we need a Congress and an FCC to together tackle the current pressing issues in the industry.

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