Big Cable reveled in its victory last month when the Federal Communications Commission repealed the net neutrality rules, but the carriers' win is sparking a political backlash.
A proposal by Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) to revoke the FCC's decision has already garnered the support of more than 40 lawmakers, including Republican Susan Collins of Maine. Markey's measure would overturn the rules under the Congressional Review Act -- a 1996 law that allows federal lawmakers to vacate recent agency decisions. If one more Republican signs on, and all Democrats support it, the Senate will have the 51 votes needed to pass the measure.
Of course, even if the Senate is able to muster the votes to revoke the FCC's decision, the same may not be true in the Republican-controlled House. And even if the bill passes Congress, President Donald Trump has the power to veto it. Still, the bill could serve as a rebuke to Trump and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
A congressional vote on net neutrality also could have ramifications in the mid-term elections -- especially because a large proportion of the public appears to favor net neutrality. A new study released by GfK Thursday says that 72% of people who say they understand net neutrality favor the concept.
The net neutrality rules prohibited carriers from engaging in censorship by blocking or throttling web sites and services. Some large Internet service providers have said they won't impede traffic or prevent people from using apps, but the carriers don't have the best track record here. Consider their history: Several years ago, Verizon was fined by the FCC for taking steps to prevent people from using tethering apps. In 2012, AT&T said it was going to disable Apple's video chat app FaceTime on the 3G network, unless people purchased a then-new "shared data" plan. And 10 years ago, Comcast was caught throttling BitTorrent traffic.
In addition to the Senate initiative, lawmakers in at least six states -- New York, California, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Washington -- have reportedly introduced legislation aimed at restoring the net neutrality rules.
It's not clear whether these efforts will go anywhere, or if they pass, whether they will withstand a legal challenge by carriers. When the FCC voted to dismantle the net neutrality rules, the agency also said it was preempting states from passing or enforcing their own measures.
But the FCC may not have the power to stop states, according to telecom expert Catherine Sandoval.
"The FCC's preemption argument is very problematic for many reasons," Sandoval, a law professor at Santa Clara University and recent member of the California Public Utilities Commission, tells MediaPost.
She says the FCC would have to argue that it has "occupied the field" of broadband by passing the types of regulations that would make it impossible for carriers to comply with state and federal rules at the same time. Here, by withdrawing regulations, the FCC has done the opposite of occupying the field.
Sandoval also says states have the power to protect their citizens' safety and welfare -- and that the Internet plays a major role in the efforts to do so.
"The Internet is being used for everything from police cameras to deployment of energy and water -- all of these services that are basic to life and health and safety," she says, adding that states have an interest in making sure that carriers don't slow down those kinds of online services.
In other words, states that pass new net neutrality laws will have plenty of ammunition for a court battle over them.