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​One last shot at net neutrality in 2018

The Senate is meeting to revive net neutrality, but chances are Trump Republicans will back the FCC and net neutrality will die.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

On May 16, the Senate will vote to reverse the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) net neutrality repeal. Odds are, with Republican opposition, Congress won't do it, but it's the last, best shot we have of restoring net neutrality this year.

The FCC published the final notice of the repeal in the Federal Register in February. Net neutrality is now scheduled to end on June 11.

Unless, that is, Congress overturns the FCC ruling. By using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), Congress can overturn the FCC's rulings by a simple majority vote. With 51 Senators voting against the FCC, net neutrality's death sentence would likely be delayed. "By passing my CRA resolution to put net neutrality back on the books, we can send a clear message to American families that we support them, not the special interest agenda of President Trump and his broadband baron allies," said Democratic Senator Edward Markey in a statement.

Unfortunately, to restore it completely, the House would also have to vote in favor of net neutrality and that's not likely. Even if the resolution makes it through the Senate it will still face Republican opposition in the House where Republicans hold a 236-193 majority. And, of course, President Donald Trump could veto the resolution.

Republicans tend to oppose net neutrality. They buy the big internet service providers' (ISPs) argument that they must charge new and higher fees for their services to pay for upgrades and maintenance to their networks.

Funny. I don't see the major ISPs not making money hand over fist anytime soon. Is anyone shorting AT&T? Verizon? I don't think so.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) pointed out recently, the biggest cost for an ISP is the initial build-out, which was done long ago. The deployment cost can be close to 80 percent of the cost portfolio of an ISP. The network operations and maintenance can be as little as 20 percent of their costs.

If net neutrality expires, you can expect your ISP to start restricting what sites you can and can't reach. This will be done by giving favor to sites and services that pay for a faster pipe in the last mile to your home or office. All the other sites and services will be stuck in the slow lane.

ISPs will also make some sites and services cheaper than others. This is called zero rating. Sounds good doesn't it? Think again. Other sites and services will become de facto more expensive.

For example, some ISPs will offer you free or cheap access to one service, say Netflix. If you prefer Amazon Prime Video instead, too bad. In addition, services that pay for zero-rating will increase their base price. You don't think they'll be cutting their profit margins to fatten the ISP margins do you? In time, you'll end up with the internet version of today's cable high-price TV packages where you end up paying for "channels" you couldn't care less about.

After that, you can expect to pay fees for some "free" services. Use social networking a lot? That will be five bucks a month for Facebook. Mind you, Facebook won't see one red penny of that, but your ISP will. Or, perhaps Facebook will be free, but any other social network will come with a price tag. So much for any would-be Facebook rival.

Speaking of which, in this new internet where you must pay to play, setting up new internet-based business will become much harder. Now, you can set up a business with just a good idea and a domain name. Say goodbye to those days.

Finally, you'll pay more for your internet access. But then we all knew that.

According to Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, everything will be great with net neutrality gone. "On June 11, these unnecessary and harmful internet regulations will be repealed and the bipartisan, light-touch approach that served the online world well for nearly 20 years will be restored.

Pai, a former Verizon lobbyist, knows better. His foundation argument is that broadband should be classified as an information service, and therefore, he's only restoring internet regulations to the way they were and should be again. That's not the case.

Until a Supreme Court decision in 2005, internet service providers (ISPs) were not seen as information services. They were governed as utilities. The net neutrality changes President Barack Obama's FCC made in 2015 weren't a radical change but a restoration to how the commercial internet had been governed since the birth of the Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX) from 1993 to 2005.

More than 20 states have filed lawsuits to save net neutrality. Other states, including New Jersey, Washington, and California, are pushing legislation to enforce net neutrality within their borders.

All these attempts will end up being fought out in the courts. The only hope for a quick and clean return to net neutrality lies in Congress. Unfortunately, I see little hope of success there. Still, it's the only shot we have left for this year.

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