Republicans Aim To Permanently Scrap Net Neutrality Rules

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has vowed to reverse at least some of the recent net neutrality rules, but some Republican foes of the open Internet order want to go even further.

On Monday, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the Orwellian-named "Restoring Internet Freedom Act," which he says would "nullify the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 Open Internet Order and prohibit the FCC from issuing a similar rule in the future."

The bill would prohibit the FCC from categorizing broadband access as a utility service, regulated under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. The measure currently has eight GOP co-sponsors -- Sens. John Cornyn (Texas), Tom Cotton (Arkansas), Ted Cruz (Texas), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), Rand Paul (Kentucky), Thom Tillis (North Carolina), Ben Sasse (Nebraska), and James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma).

The FCC's 2015 net neutrality rules reclassified broadband as a utility and imposed some common carrier restrictions on providers -- including prohibitions on blocking content and on charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.

Internet service providers challenged those regulations in court, but lost. Last year, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC had the authority to issue the open Internet order. This week, the full court refused to reconsider the question.

Pai, a vocal critic of the net neutrality order, recently unveiled a plan to reverse the decision to classify broadband as a utility service. He also wants to seek comments on the rules that prohibit ISPs from blocking or degrading traffic and creating paid fast lanes.

Net neutrality advocates are trying to rally opposition to Pai's proposal as well as Lee's bill.

The group Public Knowledge stated today that Lee's latest bill "underscores the need for all Americans to defend the current open internet rules.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Senators Brian Schatz (Michigan) and Cory Booker (New Jersey) said they opposed Pai's attempts to roll back net neutrality rules.

"The public does not accept Republicans taking away their rights online in the name of corporate profit," Schatz and Booker wrote in an open letter to Pai.

They went on to compare the potential net neutrality revocation with the recent repeal of the FCC's broadband privacy regulations. In March, lawmakers voted to scrap the privacy regulations, which would have required broadband providers to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before drawing on their Web browsing history for ad purposes. That move proved unpopular with the public. It also appears to have sparked a backlash in at least 10 states, which are reportedly considering new laws aimed at protecting the privacy of Internet users.

"Like with the Republican repeal of the FCC’s online privacy rules, there is little public support for your actions," Schatz and Booker write. "Following an onslaught of public furor, congressional Republicans regretted voting to repeal online privacy protection for the public. We believe that public uproar was just a preview of what you can expect as you initiate a proceeding to eliminate net neutrality protections."

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