The net neutrality debate is in for the long haul

May 25, 2016, 3:59 PM EDT
Source: Free Press/ Free Press Action Fund Follow/flickr
Source: Free Press/ Free Press Action Fund Follow/flickr

Not much is coming up roses for net neutrality in the U.S. right now. This week saw House Republicans release a budget that would slash the Federal Communications Commission’s budget by $69 million, effectively disabling the F.C.C. from enforcing the net neutrality rules it currently champions.

The budget proposal also would disable the F.C.C. from setting in motion its plan to boost competition in the set-top box market — something President Obama openly supported. The statement from the Appropriations Committee reads:

The bill contains $315 million for the FCC – a cut of $69 million below the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $43 million below the request. The legislation prohibits the FCC from implementing the net neutrality order until certain court cases are resolved, requires newly proposed regulations to be made publicly available for 21 days before the Commission votes on them, prohibits the FCC from regulating broadband rates, and requires the FCC to refrain from further activity of the recently proposed set-top box rule until a study is completed.

The F.C.C. has spent the last few years wrestling with how to establish net neutrality rules. (See a breakdown of the two sides of the net neutrality debate by Blouin News here.) And while F.C.C. Chairman Tom Wheeler has been criticized for flip-flopping on the subject, he has hewed to the side of regulating large internet service providers to ensure that they are not discriminating against certain content providers or engaging in price gouging or bottlenecking techniques. 

In another bout of bad news for net neutrality, Michael Powell, head of the cable industry’s biggest lobbying group and former F.C.C. chairman told CNET recently that the net neutrality legal battle is essentially a lose-lose for all. The F.C.C. is currently embroiled in a lawsuit, defending the net neutrality laws it set in place in February 2015 from the challenges by the cable and telecom industries. A federal appeals court could issue a decision on the lawsuit soon, but Powell says the outcome will not be the end of the line for this national debate. 

He said: "I have been in regulation too long to not know, win or lose, we are all going to kind of lose, because we are going to have a prolonged, protracted, complex, messy fight with uncertainty and confusion around products and services.”

That will surely come true if a budget like the one proposed by House Republicans goes through.