What is the “Save the Internet Act”? It’s the legislation expected to be introduced on Wednesday in the House of Representatives to reinstate so-called net neutrality protections eliminated by the FCC in December 2017.
Update: Congressional Democrats have laid out the timeline for their aggressive plan to restore net neutrality. Read more.
The text of the bill had not been released as of Tuesday night, but the proposal was included on Monday in a letter written by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to House Democrats. The bill is going to be introduced at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday:
On Wednesday, we will launch the Save The Internet Act, working with Senate Democrats to introduce legislation to restore Net Neutrality at 11:15 a.m. in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol;
A Return to Title II Status
The bill will likely call for internet service to be re-classified under “common carrier” status, and — yes, this is boring — is an application of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. In short, Title II status empowers the FCC to more strongly enforce how internet service providers (ISPs) treat internet traffic.
On December 14, 2017, the FCC voted to remove the Title II classification for internet traffic that was implemented during the Obama administration. That vote can be seen below.
Strong net neutrality rules place bans on throttling site speed — throttling is is already happening, though — blocking sites, and offering paid prioritization for any site or streaming service or app that pays more for it. Notably, net neutrality also requires greater transparency.
In a move that was equally maddening and unsurprising, the FCC’s number-one reason for voting to remove net neutrality consumer protections in 2017 was “consumer protection.” Critics of FCC chair Ajit Pai say it’s the sort smug justification that could only be made by the same person who made literally the worst video on the internet. Ironically, the name of the provision to remove net neutrality rules was the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” but the freedom restored is directed at the ISPs, which are now free to charge more for access to certain websites or apps, block others, and throttle load speeds.
The Democrats’ bill isn’t the only net neutrality bill in the House. Trade magazine Broadcasting & Cable has reported on three Republican-sponsored bills — none of which, crucially, include a return to Title II classification. With respect to tough net neutrality protections, they’re effectively toothless.
Bringing Back the “General Conduct Standard”
Advocates for net neutrality want to see a return of the “general conduct standard” that says there shouldn’t be any “unreasonable” disruption to internet service. It’s meant to future-proof net neutrality rules against internet applications we haven’t even thought of yet.
“No blocking, no throttling, no fast lanes; those can be bright-line rules, because we know about those issues, but we don’t know where things go next,” explained then-FCC chair Tom Wheeler in 2015. “We have created a playing field where there are known rules, and the FCC will sit there as a referee, able to throw the flag.”
Essentially, the return of a “general conduct standard” would give the FCC more power to guard against unanticipated tomfoolery from an ISP that might result in an unequal internet. (The general conduct standard was also stripped in 2017.)
“The internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules,” Wheeler said in 2015.
Who’s Against Net Neutrality?
Generally, internet service providers are against net neutrality, a view that’s shared by business-friendly lawmakers who receive campaign donations from ISPs.
Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, argues that net neutrality “appears to have put at risk online investment and innovation, threatening the very open internet it purported to preserve.” It’s not clear how that risk or those threats have manifested, though.
Who’s for Net Neutrality?
Major websites, like members of the Internet Association, support net neutrality, saying starting a new business online without equal internet would be extremely difficult. And the general public supports it, evidenced by the flooding of the FCC website in May 2017 with comments demanding it uphold net neutrality. (The FCC allowed a falsehood to persist that its site was attacked by bots created by pro-net neutrality hackers, and that 22 million comments weren’t legitimate. It turned out the FCC site wasn’t hacked and the comments were largely legit. However, the FCC said it could ignore the comments.)
A nationwide poll conducted by the pro-net neutrality Mozilla group (makers of the Firefox browser) found that support for net neutrality was at 78 percent, and it was at 84 percent for adults younger than 35.
The popular wave of support for net neutrality can be partially credited to John Oliver, whose Last Week Tonight dedicated two longform segments in 2014 and 2017 to the admittedly dry but important topic, breaking down its importance with scathing humor.
In 2017, he famously called on the people of Reddit and 4chan to post comments on the FCC website urging it to maintain the protections. Oliver went as far as setting up an easy-to-type vanity URL to direct people to the comments page, as it was buried in bureaucratic maze that is the FCC website. GoFCCYourself.com still works today.
“America needs you to rise, or more accurately, remain seated in front of your computer screen, to this occasion!” Oliver said on an episode of his show in May 2017. “Gamers, YouTube celebrities, Instagram models, Tom from MySpace if you’re still alive,” all need to leave a comment saying they support net neutrality. It was that flood of comments which caused the FCC to claim its site was hacked.
In shoring up popular support for net neutrality, Oliver made sure the issue didn’t die quietly. It looks like it might come back to life, starting Wednesday.