By Timothy Karr, Free Press
“All politics is local,” the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said.
O’Neill is less known for another saying that also holds true: “You can’t assume anything in politics. That’s why every Saturday I walk around my district.”
It’s easy for cloistered Washington politicos to assume that Net Neutrality is dead, undone in December by the Trump FCC and its Verizon-friendly chairman, Ajit Pai. But any elected official who follows O’Neill’s advice and walks beyond the Beltway is hearing a very different story.
States and cities fight back
In the eight weeks since the FCC voted to take away Net Neutrality, a groundswell of activism by local advocates and politicians has revived prospects for lasting open-internet safeguards.
Elected officials in more than 25 states (see below) have introduced measures to prevent large phone and cable companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from blocking, throttling or otherwise interfering with online content.
Just last week, the governors of Hawaii and New Jersey joined those from Montana and New York in issuing executive orders that force internet service providers that do business with their states to abide by strong Net Neutrality standards.
On Friday, Washington State legislators voted 93–5 to pass House Bill 2282, which prohibits access providers from blocking or impairing online traffic. The bill is now working its way through the state Senate.
Similar legislation is under consideration in statehouses from Georgia to Oregon, by way of Tennessee, Nebraska, South Dakota and many points in between.
Attorneys general from 21 states (plus the District of Columbia) have filed a lawsuit claiming that the FCC’s repeal violates federal law.
Municipalities are joining the fight too. Last month, San Francisco announced that any private-sector applicant seeking a contract to build the city’s proposed fiber network must abide by the Obama FCC’s 2015 Net Neutrality rules.
In December, 68 mayors and county leaders signed on to a letter arguing that the FCC’s decision to gut the open-internet protections would widen the digital divide in cities while stifling economic growth. The FCC decision last year, the letter notes, casts a “cloud of uncertainty … over the connected future in our cities… The Commission’s approach puts those few companies ahead of millions of Americans, tens of thousands of businesses which depend on a free and open Internet, and local communities solving everyday problems Americans face.”
Local politicians are reading their coffee grounds, and checking recent public polls, which show overwhelming bipartisan support for Net Neutrality. A University of Maryland poll from December 2017 found that more than 83 percent of voters favor keeping the rules, including 75 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of independents.
The fight in Congress
Supporting Net Neutrality is a winning political issue. That’s become hard for lawmakers on the left and the right to ignore, though some have tried. This support percolates up from cities and states to the nation’s capital, where momentum is building for a Congressional Review Act resolution that would reject the Trump FCC’s unpopular ruling against an open internet.
So far 50 members of the Senate have signaled their support for the resolution, just one shy of the number needed for it to pass the chamber. A companion bill in the House has garnered support from more than 140 lawmakers.
To push the resolution over the top, advocacy organizations including Free Press Action Fund, Demand Progress and Fight for the Future, among others, have launched coordinated grassroots campaigns to generate phone calls to Congress, visits to in-district offices and comments during town-hall meetings to make certain that every lawmaker knows where their constituents stand. Actions in the field are planned for Feb. 15, 22 and 27, with more to come. Most focus on getting senators from Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana and Nevada to support the CRA.
It’s important to have action across the map. City and state protections are encouraging, and would likely withstand legal challenges from the phone and cable lobby, but they offer only a piecemeal solution to a national problem. If we’re to protect Net Neutrality for everyone we must restore the Title II standard of the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order. Passing the CRA resolution is our best hope for getting there in the present Congress.
Washington, D.C., can withstand only so much pressure from people back home. At some point elected officials will have to take those Saturday walks and explain their stance to constituents who are hungry for real Net Neutrality protections. They better get it right.
States now considering Net Neutrality legislation