This morning, Congressional Democrats are, as CNET describes, throwing a “legislative Hail Mary” in order to save net neutrality.
In an attempt to overturn the Federal Communication Commission (FCC’s) net neutrality rules, 33 Democrats submitted a new petition under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which gives Congress the ability to nix rules created by federal agencies. The CRA would trigger a Senate vote, which then would get kicked to the House. Under the CRA, today’s resolution needs a simple majority in each house before it goes to the President to sign. Right now, 50 senators are on board—48 Democrats and two others (Sen. Angus King, I-Maine and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine).
That said, the House is a different matter. Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass., said today that there are 160 on board—but that’s a long way from the 218 needed.
To add pressure to Senators and House members, companies like Mozilla, Reddit, Tinder, OK Cupid, Etsy, Tumblr, GitHub, Postmates, Imgur, Pornhub, Vimeo and Foursquare have designated a “red alert” day today. The initiative is “part of a Red Alert for Net Neutrality campaign to drive constituent calls and emails to lawmakers ahead of an imminent Senate vote to overrule the FCC’s overwhelmingly unpopular repeal of net neutrality,” according to a statement released by non-profit Demand Progress.
“Companies and organizations will display prominent messages on their homepages or in their apps, while Internet users will be encouraged to flood social media with ‘red alert’ messages, and change their avatars,” the statement continued.
Foursquare’s in-house creative agency, Sixteen, is designing the ads for the campaign, which is designed to “reach people who can make a difference: constituents in five states where experts believe that at least one senator might be willing to side with us in favor of a democratic internet,” said Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck in a Medium post explaining the campaign.
The controversial issue of net neutrality
Net neutrality has been a hot topic for several years, starting with the Obama administration’s play to make sure that the companies that control Internet access—telecom companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast—don’t charge customers for faster speed or higher-quality, the so-called ‘fast lanes.’
In December 2017, the GOP-led FCC, headed by Trump nominee and Internet villain Ajit Pai, voted to repeal the previous administration’s rules. The telecoms cheered; society didn’t. At the time, Pai said, “We are helping consumers and promoting competition. Broadband providers will have more incentive to build networks, especially to underserved areas.”
Senate Democrats have been all over Twitter today, lobbing last-gasp Twitter missives to get the Internet riled up over the issue once again.
AT&T confirmed today that it paid $1.2 million to a firm founded by Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney. The payment was an effort to gain “insights” into the administration; coincidentally, the contract ended in December 2017, the month FCC repealed net neutrality. On the eve of the FCC move to roll back net neutrality, the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation found that 83 percent of Americans opposed the FCC’s plan to repeal, including three out of four Republicans.
Also at the time when AT&T says it cut ties with Cohen’s firm, the government began its efforts to block the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger.
Today’s maneuver by Democrats is considered a long shot because it needs President Trump’s sign-off, but it gives some hope to activists and supporters of an open web.
But as we’ve witnessed over the last couple of years, hope can be a four-letter word.