Net neutrality becomes just another congressional logjam

by Steve Blum • , ,

The wrangling over the FCC’s decision to regulate broadband service and infrastructure under common carrier rules will be decided in court and not in congress. That’s according to an article in the National Journal (h/t to the Baller-Herbst list for the pointer).

Congressional republicans have been talking about rewriting the 1996 communications act – the basic federal law regulating electronic communications – for the past couple of years. There’s good reason to do that, given the way the growth of Internet-enabled services and information have revolutionised the way we live since it was passed. Many hoped it could be done, at least to some extent on a bipartisan, technocratic basis.

That hope was misplaced. When the FCC approved common carrier Internet rules earlier this year, it was a strictly partisan affair, with the fight starting on the commission and quickly spreading to congress. All of a sudden, boring telecoms legislation was radioactive…

“Net neutrality certainly was a mini-atomic bomb in the middle of it,” said Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican who chairs the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

Walden emphasized that he’s “not ready to throw in the towel” on piecemeal updates of the Communications Act, the foundational law for regulation of the Internet, television, and telephone industries. But he admitted that the bitter partisan divide over net neutrality has made any comprehensive rewrite difficult.

In other words, there won’t be any telecoms legislation backed by republicans this year unless it overturns the new network neutrality rules, and anything that touches the issue will be shot down by democrats. That clears the way for the appeals process to play out in federal court.