An Ajit Pai led FCC trampled all over Tom Wheeler’s net neutrality legacy, though a new filing from the Trump administration to the US Supreme Court is looking to crush the final remains into dust.
The last remnants of the net neutrality rules is a 2016 Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruling to uphold the reclassification of internet service providers as common carriers (which was originally passed in 2015), one of Wheeler’s final acts as Chairman of the FCC. However, lawyers are now arguing the ridiculously named ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ proposal has sufficiently changed the regulatory and commercial environment enough to justify the courts ditching the final footnotes of Tom Wheeler’s FCC tenure.
“The petitions for writs of certiorari seek review of the court of appeals’ decision upholding the 2015 Order,” the filing states. “That decision does not warrant this Court’s review because the FCC has now issued a new order that supersedes the 2015 Order and repeals its conduct rules. In light of that development, questions concerning the procedural and substantive validity of the 2015 Order lack continuing practical significance.”
What is worth noting is this is not the first action against 2015 ruling. Lobby groups across the US are trying to tackle the reclassification and have launched their own appeal to the US Supreme Court last September, claiming the FCC exceeded its authority, and also didn’t do enough to justify its decision. While the rules themselves have been erased, there is a big picture motive for the industry.
As it stands, telcos are perfectly within their rights to wander down the route of zero rating offers or even venture into the land of paid-prioritization of internet traffic. Individual states are attempting to introduce their own legislation, but, as you can see from this link, lobby groups and Republican politicians are doing their best to stall the progress of these bills. So why bother taking down this legislation when it has no impact on today?
The answer is simple; seesaw politics. Like Trump’s administration erasing the progress made by Tom Wheeler, a Democrat-leaning FCC could well do the same. Using the legal classification of telcos as common carriers could be used as the foundation to launch another assault promoting net neutrality rules. If the telco industry destroys the classification ruling today, future administrations will find it much more difficult to undo Pai’s work.
This is essentially the way politics works. An idea will be contested on either side of the aisle, with the controlling party winning out. This will continue until something more contentious appears and politicians have a fresher argument to pretend they care about, leaning on the emotions of the general public to earn PR points. Few of these politicians will care about the issues at hand, in fact, few will actually understand them, but these are shallow-caricatures of human beings who will do anything to boost their polling numbers and popularity ratings.
The industry won when it came to overturning net neutrality rules under Pai’s guidance in the FCC, and now it is trying to ensure future governments have few options to reinstate consumer protections which were implemented through the rules. The long-game is underway, and it might not be too long before people start asking who Tom Wheeler even was.