Internet: Can states save net neutrality?
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai “spent 2017 dismantling Obama-era rules on net neutrality. A handful of lawmakers in liberal-leaning states plan to spend 2018 building them back up,” said Joshua Brustein in Bloomberg.com. Legislatures in at least six states, including California, Massachusetts, and Washington, have introduced bills to restore net neutrality rules within their borders, and last week, the Democratic governors of New York and Montana both signed orders barring state agencies from doing business with internet providers that “block or slow down certain web traffic.” States are also taking the FCC to court: Last month, 21 state attorneys general filed a lawsuit calling the FCC’s December decision to roll back net neutrality rules “arbitrary and capricious.” The federal agency clearly anticipated all this pushback, having included a provision that forbids states from creating their own net neutrality regulations. But states aren’t alone: A resolution undoing the FCC’s net neutrality repeal has the declared support of 50 U.S. senators, and the Internet Association, a trade group representing Amazon, Facebook, and Google, has joined the legal fight.
If Pai and his cohorts thought their decision would settle the net neutrality matter last year, they are now under no such illusion, said Chris Taylor in Mashable.com. “As Obi-Wan Kenobi might have told them: Strike down net neutrality, and it will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” The fact that so many politicians and lawyers are “champing at the bit to fight” shows that the FCC’s handling of the matter was “incredibly shady; regulations don’t normally get overturned this fast.” Questions abound about Pai’s speed in pushing for repeal, not to mention the “millions of fake online comments” in favor of overturning the rules. Democrats correctly sense that, come the fall, protecting net neutrality will be “a vote winner on which all levels of elections could turn.” At stake is “nothing less than the health of our open society,” said The Boston Globe in an editorial. If the federal government is unwilling to protect a free and open internet, “then state and local government must.”
“Should more states adopt their own net neutrality rules, it could result in a patchwork of differing regulations,” said Brian Fung in The Washington Post. AT&T, fearing such a nightmarish scenario, began campaigning last week to head off the states. Claiming it “does not block or slow down websites,” the company called for Congress to “draft a national law on net neutrality that would resolve the patchwork problem and settle the net neutrality debate.” AT&T is right, said John Kneuer in TheHill.com. Lawmakers should ensure Pai’s sensible decision stands firm, and that it isn’t undone by the next administration. Only Congress can resolve the debate “once and for all.” ■