The fight to save net neutrality faces a key deadline in Congress on Monday.
December 10 is the last day Congress can use an obscure maneuver — a discharge petition — to force a vote on repealing the Trump administration’s regulations killing net neutrality.
President Trump’s FCC Commissioner, Ajit Pai, dealt a serious blow to net neutrality when he issued regulations earlier this year gutting the Obama-era rules protecting it. He did so, it turns out, having listened to millions of public comments that were overwhelmingly fake, organized campaigns, or bots that falsely gave the impression of a tidal wave opposing net neutrality.
A Stanford researcher found that almost 21 million of the 22 million comments sent to the FCC were not unique messages from real people. Of the comments from real people, the researcher found, 99.7 percent supported net neutrality.
On Saturday, Buzzfeed News reported that the Justice Department is investigating whether laws were broken when millions of people’s identities were posted to the FCC’s website in a false attribution of their opinions about net neutrality rules.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) who will be retiring from the Senate next year, congratulated Pai for his “determination to not let mobs impact his desire to serve and do an excellent job at the FCC,” after Pai talked about receiving a death threat during the net neutrality fight in June.
Net neutrality is the idea that the internet is like a utility, and all parts of the internet should be equally easy to access. You shouldn’t have to pay more to see Wikipedia than you do to see Fox News’s site. Vimeo should load as quickly as Netflix does, no matter what deals the parent companies set up with the internet service providers. The Trump administration can’t pressure Comcast or Verizon to throttle back access to websites it doesn’t like.
The Trump administration’s approach to net neutrality has been to side with the large companies that control internet access. And there is a good chance it will get its way. There is one last best chance for net neutrality.
Back in May, under the Congressional Review Act, the Senate voted 52-47 to overturn the FCC’s proposed rules that would gut net neutrality. The House has not acted on the bill to overturn the rules, and with the bill stuck in committee, it has very little time remaining before the end of this Congress. The only chance is to force a vote on the floor and bypass the committee by a majority of the House signing a discharge petition.
Here are the 178 House members who have signed the discharge petition — the last being Rep. Joseph Morelle (D-NY) on November 30. If 40 more members sign the petition, that would mean a majority of the House — 218 members, supported it, requiring the chamber to hold a vote.
The problem for net neutrality advocates is that Monday, December 10 is the deadline.
Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) tweeted Tuesday December 4 that she supported the discharge petition but had not signed the document as of Sunday evening.
Members of Congress in both parties have been pushing for more support for the discharge petition over the last few days.
From the moment President Trump’s @FCC made its move to repeal #NetNeutrality, we have made our voices heard for a free and open Internet. Now, the House has just 5 days left to vote to restore #NetNeutrality rules. Keep up the pressure, keep making your voices heard.
— Senator Patty Murray (@PattyMurray) December 5, 2018
When the Trump @FCC repealed #netneutrality, they gave big businesses free reign to slow down your web activity as they please. No one should be put in an internet slow lane. We need the House to vote to restore a free and open internet. pic.twitter.com/VuMoUw8lRx
— Tom Udall (@SenatorTomUdall) November 29, 2018
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) December 6, 2018
Congress has less than a month left to fully restore #netneutrality – after this, it gets way harder. Sign this open letter & urge Congress to save the open Internet before our chance to overturn the FCC's repeal expires at the end of this year: https://t.co/fJANnjsl8M pic.twitter.com/TQO8QkaJHE
— Chellie Pingree (@chelliepingree) November 29, 2018
The 115th Congress is drawing to a close, and time's running out to overturn the @FCC's repeal of #NetNeutrality. We need 218 votes on the discharge petition I signed to force a vote on this priority and save the free and open internet. Be sure to spread the word today! pic.twitter.com/UlI9KhR7hK
— Rep. Diana DeGette (@RepDianaDeGette) November 29, 2018
Since the @FCC repealed #NetNeutrality rules, I have joined millions of Americans in fighting for the free and open internet. We need an internet that reflects our values of free speech, innovation, and economic opportunity, and we must ACT NOW to restore #NetNeutrality. pic.twitter.com/XjiNgkFBGU
— Alma S. Adams (@RepAdams) December 6, 2018
Since the @FCC repealed #NetNeutrality rules, millions of Americans have raised their voices in the fight for a free and open internet. We need an internet that reflects our values of free speech, innovation and economic opportunity, and we must act now to restore #NetNeutrality. pic.twitter.com/bhjEf7i23T
— Rep. Debbie Dingell (@RepDebDingell) December 6, 2018
The FCC turned its back on consumers last year when it voted to eviscerate #NetNeutrality protections & turn the Internet over to the largest ISPs.
Now Congress has a few short weeks to save the free& open Internet by passing legislation to fully reinstate #NetNeutrality rules
— Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (@RepAnnaEshoo) November 29, 2018
If 218 members — and this would require significant Republican support given they still control the chamber in the lame duck session — sign the discharge petition, the House would have to vote on the bill repealing the FCC regulations, and then Trump would have to sign it. Democrats lost seats in the Senate this year, which means that next year it will be harder for the bill to pass the Senate, even if it is easier to approve the measure in the House with a new Democratic majority.
One advocacy group, Fight for the Future, unveiled a campaign last week targeting “17 House Democrats who have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from ISPs and so far refused to sign the Congressional Review Act Discharge Petition to restore net neutrality.”
The federal level is not the only place where this policy fight is happening. There are legislative fights in the states to ensure net neutrality principles. California passed a sweeping law in September that the telecom industry began fighting immediately.