WASHINGTON, June 11, 2018 – Before the official date on which the Federal Communications Commission’s action changing net neutrality were to go into effect, conservative technology experts slammed a recent Senate vote to restore those Obama-era network neutrality protections
“The [Congressional Review Act vote] is purely being used as a political tool, and it is a distraction,” said Berin Szóka, president of TechFreedom, an officially non-partisan technology policy think tank that is nonetheless a long-time skeptic of mandatory network neutrality rules.
Szoka spoke at a June 4 event by TechFreedom. He slammed CRA vote as nothing more than a Democratic partisan stunt to rally their liberal base for this fall’s midterm elections. He suggested that if net neutrality activists were sincere about wanting to address the issues they’ve raised since the mid-2000s, they’d move on to a new solution.
The Congressional Review Act’s ‘resolution of disapproval’
Last month, three Republicans -- Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John Kennedy of Louisiana -- joined Senate’s 49 Democrats to pass a so-called “resolution of disapproval” under the Congressional Review Act.
If passed by the House and signed by the president, the measure would overturn the GOP-led Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of network neutrality rules approved in February 2015.
Szoka and other free-market advocates expressed concerns that the Senate vote was purely a political maneuver. He criticized the way network neutrality advocates continue to focus on using regulatory agencies like the FCC to accomplish their goals, instead of addressing problems through bipartisan legislation.
A misunderstood tool, according to TechFreedom
Szoka said that senators who voted for the CRA resolution -- and any House members who might vote for a companion resolution are playing with a tool they may not properly understand.
Moreover, he said, activists and members of the general public who support their efforts are out of their depth.
Szoka said that net neutrality advocates’ belief that a Congressional Review Act resolution would restore the Obama-era rules, which the FCC approved under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler, is based on an incorrect understanding of what the CRA does.
The CRA, signed into law in by President Bill Clinton in 1996, was the brainchild of House Republicans and a plank of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.” It allows Congress, under certain circumstances, to overturn rules promulgated by regulatory agencies.
A Trump-era revival of the Congressional Review Act
Although used only once in the intervening decades, the CRA has undergone something of a revival since President Donald Trump’s election victory gave Republicans control of both the legislative and executive branches for the first time since President George W. Bush.
Since taking office, Trump has signed 16 joint resolutions to repeal particular Obama-era regulatory rules.
But even if Trump were to give the Democrat-backed resolution his blessing, the result may not be what net neutrality activists, advocates, and supporters are hoping for, since a CRA resolution does not just overturn a given agency’s regulations.
Instead, the CRA actually prohibits that agency from promulgating any further regulation for that same purpose.
Because joint resolutions have the force of law, such a prohibition can only be lifted if Congress passes legislation that is signed into law by the president.
The public is unaware of the far-reaching implications of the Congressional Review Act
Not only is the public largely unaware of the far-reaching implications of overturning a rule using the CRA, Szoka said, but the members of Congress who support the Democrats’ resolution appear to be in the dark as well.
The debate intensified to question not just the CRA, but the FCC and its role in regulating the internet.
Grace Koh, who recently left the White House, where she worked on broadband issues for the National Economic Council, explained that there is a difference in the Democratic and Republican ideas of what the FCC should be and how it should act. This, she said, not internet regulations, is at the heart of the bill.
Szoka suggested that the failure of Democrats and Republicans alike to make any meaningful process on bipartisan network neutrality legislation was the result of deliberate stalling, with both sides gaming the situation for their own political advantage.
“They would love to drag this through the midterms,” Szóka said. He expressed that no one in Congress cares about the question, and that “Congress literally has no idea what its doing.”
Congress needs good and clear legislation, and they need it now. “Please legislate, for god’s sake,” Grace Koh said.
Koh explained that while Congress fails to pass effective legislation, the internet continues to develop faster and faster, and the number of issues that Congress needs to resolve in regards to the internet only compile.