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Senate Approves Bill to Reinstate Net Neutrality; House Action Less Likely

While the Federal Communications Commission has set a date for rescinding net neutrality — the rules by which internet service providers are expected to abide — a new resolution by U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) aims to preserve the protections classifying the internet as a public utility.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's "Restoring Internet Freedom" order is slated to take effect June 11. In a statement, Pai asserted that eliminating the net neutrality rules, which were put in place during the previous White House administration, would encourage "innovation and investment in our nation's networks so that all Americans, no matter where they live, can have access to better, cheaper and faster internet access and the jobs, opportunities, and platform for free expression that it provides."

Net neutrality, officially known as the "Open Internet Order," prohibits service providers from blocking, slowing down or discriminating against online content. Opponents of the Pai initiative claimed that repealing the net neutrality rules could lead to higher prices for consumers, slower internet traffic and even blocked websites.

Numerous education groups aren't sitting still: They've put pressure on Congress to support Sen. Markey's resolution to reinstate the rules. That bill was passed by the Senate yesterday when three Republican and two independent senators joined Democrats to push the resolution through. Now the U.S. House of Representatives will take up the measure.

According to coverage in Courthouse News, because of the wide edge Republicans have in the House, passage is unlikely. It would require "at least 25 Republicans to cross the aisle in order to even bring it up for a vote." And then, as the article noted, it would still need a signature from President Trump, "who would likely veto it" — in spite of its wide support among most Americans.

A University of Maryland poll taken just after net neutrality was reversed found that 83 percent of Americans supported net neutrality and opposed the repeal. That included 75 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of independents.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) encouraged its members last week to contact Senators and urge them to vote "yes" on the reinstatement resolution. In December, CoSN CEO Keith Krueger warned that rescinding neutrality would lead to a "bleak reality" with "reduced choices, higher prices and fewer innovative tools."

State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) Executive Director Tracy Weeks told Politico that education would "suffer" under Pai's new rules, noting that "schools are in a 'very uneasy place' because little can be done if a site's speeds are slowed. 'There's no real recourse; just a promise that [service providers] have to be transparent.'"

One organization, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, suggested that having Congress weigh in was the wrong "mechanism" for addressing the issue of net neutrality — especially considering that it was expected "to run into a brick wall in the Republican-controlled House." In a public statement the non-partisan think tank suggested that a better solution was for lawmakers to knuckle under and develop "bipartisan compromise legislation that will stand the test of time."

The organization recently published a report offering a framework for that legislation to establish "FCC oversight of light-touch net neutrality rules, as well as expand the scope of existing proposals by pairing funding for rural broadband, broadband adoption and digital-literacy programs with baseline rules to protect and promote the open internet."

The report's recommendations included passing a law that would:

  • Clarify that broadband internet access service isn't a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act;
  • Put open internet protections in place, including requirements for no blocking, no throttling and transparency;
  • Allow "pro-competitive traffic differentiation" for applications that required it, "while preventing anticompetitive abuses of prioritization;"
  • Arm the FCC with "reasonable, but bounded" powers to enforce open internet rules; and
  • Fund digital literacy and broadband adoption programs, as well as rural broadband infrastructure.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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