Congress Considers Reviving ‘Net Neutrality’ Regulation

Published June 11, 2018

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are collecting signatures to force a vote on a measure to override the Federal Communications Commission’s January decision to implement the Restoring Internet Freedom Order.

The pending legislation would effectively reinstate government regulation of the internet as a public utility. The FCC voted in January to reverse its 2015 decision expanding the agency’s power to regulate internet service providers’ networking traffic decisions, a policy known as net neutrality.

Senate Joint Resolution 52 (S.J.R. 52), approved by the Senate in May, would use Congress’ power under the Congressional Review Act of 1996 to block major regulations by passing a resolution of disapproval.

A discharge petition to force the full House to consider the measure is currently circulating, with 124 members having signed it so far. If proponents can gather 218 signatures in total, the House will have to vote on the resolution.

If the resolution is approved by the House and signed into law by President Donald Trump, it will reverse the January FCC order and reinstate Wheeler’s net neutrality rule.

‘It’s Congress’ Job’

Bruce Edward Walker, a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, says Congress neglected a constitutional duty in allowing the FCC to dictate private businesses’ internet traffic decisions.

“The original Open Internet Order that passed the FCC was an enormous overreach of power, and Congress should have repealed it immediately but didn’t,” Walker said. “It’s Congress’ job to pass and repeal laws. They should’ve been on top of the net neutrality issue in the first place, rather than leaving it to unelected officials to pass such drastic measures.”

Media Misinformation

Graham Owens, a legal fellow at TechFreedom, says people have been misled about the nature of net neutrality and how the internet works.

“Many news organizations have portrayed this vote as kind of the end of the internet, and, understandably, if you’re a consumer, you think this is terrible; but consumers don’t understand it’s an immensely complicated issue that’s been before many courts,” Owens said. “We’re talking about a set of rules that have been in place for two years, and for the rest of the internet’s history everything seemed to work fine.”

The internet worked just fine without government micromanagement in the past, Walker says.

“The internet experience for the majority of all users worked effectively before net neutrality,” Walker said. “I hope there are no reanimations of net neutrality in the future that once again pose threats again to real, empirically verified internet freedom.”

Calls for Regulatory Stability

Uncertainty about the rules governing the internet is discouraging private investment in telecom infrastructure, Owens says.

“The only things worse than overly burdensome regulations are unstable ones,” Owens said. “Companies can’t invest in infrastructure when they don’t know what kind of regulatory world they will be living in.

“Congressional direction for the FCC is the only way this can be fixed,” Owens said. “Absent congressional action on these regulations, we’re going to be living in a world of regulatory ping-pong, where every time a different administration is in place, the rules will change back and forth.”