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There's still hope for net neutrality in the US

It's a good day to be a net neutrality advocate.

Published onFebruary 1, 2019

Net neutrality advocates actually have something to be happy about today — a federal appeals court heard arguments earlier today against the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality repeal. Not only that, but a U.S. Senate Democrat announced he will “soon” introduce a new net neutrality bill.

Judges Robert Wilkins, Patricia Millett, and Stephen Williams heard the arguments for two and a half hours in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. According to Reuters, the arguments revolved around classifying internet providers under law either as ISPs or public utilities.

The arguments also focused on whether the FCC stuck to procedural protocol when it repealed the net neutrality rules in December 2017. At the time, the FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to reverse the President Barack Obama-era classification of the internet as a public utility. Dubbed “net neutrality,” the rules prevented ISPs from offering paid fast lanes or throttling traffic from and to certain websites.

California will not enforce the net neutrality law it passed (for now)

“This wasn’t how the internet was meant to be,” Mozilla chief operating officer Denelle Dixon told The Washington Post. Dixon is leading the court fight against the FCC, along with 22 state attorneys general and several tech companies which include Reddit, Vimeo, and Etsy.

“An internet that enables consumer choice necessarily protects net neutrality. Without protecting net neutrality, [broadband providers] will control the Internet experiences of everyone. And that cannot be what happens.”

In response to the oral arguments, FCC chief of staff Matthew Berry told The Washington Post that the internet has continued to thrive since the FCC’s net neutrality repeal.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has already affirmed the FCC’s authority to classify broadband as a Title I information service, and we have every reason to believe that the judiciary will uphold the FCC’s decision to return to that regulatory framework.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals is expected to make a decision by this summer.

New net neutrality bill?

On one side, the FCC is fighting to keep its net neutrality repeal. On the other side, the FCC might be fighting to keep a new net neutrality bill away from politicians. That’s thanks to U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), who will “soon” introduce a bill that will permanently reinstate the repealed net neutrality rules.

In a statement sent to The Verge, a spokesperson for Markey said the bill would codify net neutrality rules into law. In a separate statement, Markey said the bill introduction was imminent.

“Whether in the halls of the courts or the halls of Congress, we will fight to defend net neutrality. Nothing less than the fate of the internet is being argued in this court case, and we must do everything we can in this historic fight.”

I’m at the D.C. Circuit Court where the case to save #NetNeutrality is getting its day in court. Whether in the courts or in the halls of Congress, we will fight to defend the free and open internet.
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) February 1, 2019

Back in May 2018, Markey was part of a group of Senate Democrats that led a Senate vote to undo the net neutrality repeal. The vote didn’t go Markey’s way and net neutrality was officially removed one month later.

That said, there’s room for cautious optimism this time around. Democrats now hold a majority in the House of Representatives, so passing a net neutrality measure at that level would be much easier now.

Also, most U.S. states continue to push back against the net neutrality repeal — five states issued executive orders to maintain net neutrality, over 20 state attorneys general filed lawsuits, and over 30 states wrote state legislation to retain net neutrality.

That said, Republicans continue to hold the majority in the Senate and will likely be huge roadblocks for any net neutrality measure. The measure might not even be heard since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could refuse to take the bill to the floor.

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