President Donald Trump is once again threatening as veto should Congress pass the ‘Save the Internet’ Act to reinstate net neutrality rules across the US.
Having largely unwound the net neutrality regulation during the first year of the Trump administration, Congress is one track to continue the seesaw ride which has been net neutrality. In a statement released by the Executive Office of Management and Budget, the White House has promised a veto, quoting statistics and trends which have nothing to do with the ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ Act, which it is trying to protect.
The ‘Save the Internet’ Act, introduced by a horde of Democrats led by Representative Anna Eshoo, would effectively undermine the ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ Act and reinstate net neutrality rules. A vote was supposed to take place on April 9, though this has been delayed thanks to a number of amendments. The vote may well happen this afternoon, April 10.
“Last year, the FCC returned to the light-touch regulatory scheme that enabled the internet to develop and thrive for nearly two decades by promoting internet freedom and encouraging network investment,” the statement reads.
“Since the new rule was adopted in 2018, consumers have benefited from a greater than 35 percent increase in average, fixed broadband download speeds, and the United States rose to sixth, from thirteenth, in the world for those speeds. In 2018, fiber was also made available to more new homes than in any previous year, and capital investment by the Nation’s top six Internet service providers increased by $2.3 billion.”
Let’s break this down claim by claim, starting with the broadband speeds.
The statement is of course correct, broadband speeds have been increasing but this has nothing to do with repealing net neutrality laws. The White House seems to be using an Ookla report from December which uses data from Q2 and Q3 2018. Broadband speeds did increase year-on-year, though the repeal of net neutrality rules only occurred in June, mid-way through this period suggesting broadband speeds were already on the up.
Removing net neutrality rules was not like flicking a switch to make the internet faster. According to the Republicans, it was supposed to more freely enable investment in the network, something which would take months, if not years, to realise the benefits of. Linking these speeds to any success of the repeal is at best incompetent or at worst, directly misleading.
On the fibre side, the statement claims that fibre deployments are on the increase though this again might have nothing to do with the net neutrality repeal. Firstly, as part of the Time Warner transaction AT&T was forced through regulation (ironic) to deploy more fibre broadband. Secondly, fibre deployments were gradually increasing and the increase in the US is in-line with overarching trends. It’s not necessarily a new development which should be attributed to any form of external influence or catalyst.
The threat of a veto is never far away, but so far it has proved to be nothing more than hot air from the inflated President. Despite having threatened vetoes for infrastructure, immigration and security bills which have not taken his fancy, the President has only used the power of veto once since his appointment. This might change now a Democrat Congress will be pushing through bills which he won’t like however.
While the power of the veto is something which can be viewed as undemocratic, it is not uncommon. Barack Obama used the veto 12 times during his tenure, as did George Bush before him. Bill Clinton bagged 37 vetoes between 1993-2001, while George Bush Senior managed 44 in his four-year presidency.
Amazingly, these all pale in comparison to the leader of the veto. Grover Cleveland, the only US President to serve non-consecutive terms (1885-89 and 1893-97), used the right to veto an incredibly 584 times, while seven more were over-ridden by the sitting politicians.
Although the ‘Save the Internet’ Act does look doomed to failure, perhaps that is not necessarily as important as it would seem. The bill would still have to pass through the Republican controlled Senate, which would have been incredibly unlikely, though it gives a measure of support.
Before too long, the lawsuits from the 23 Attorney Generals supporting net neutrality across the country will start to be considered, and there is the small matter of the 2020 election. Trying to decide which way the next Presidential election will head is a futile task, though a Democrat heading back into the White House is not unforeseeable.
Should the Republicans lose the election, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai would step down from his position, as is customary, and a Democrat Chairman would be installed. This would effectively tip the balance of voting power back towards the Democrats in the FCC (3-2), allowing rules such as net neutrality to make a return.
Despite all the efforts to kill net neutrality, the concept is still hanging on. It might not have a home in the rulebook any more, but Pai is finding it difficult to block any legislative paths to return the rules. The ‘Save the Internet’ Act will most likely fail, either being shot down by the Senate or vetoed by Trump, but it demonstrates the intentions of a Democrat administration.