2018 was not a great year for net neutrality. The Obama-era rules were designed to prevent ISPs and wireless carriers from charging content streamers to access a “fast lane.” In addition, the rules block these carriers from banning content that they don’t agree with. In other words, net neutrality forces all streaming content to be treated the same. But when President Donald Trump named Ajit Pai as the new FCC Chairman in January 2017, Pai led an FCC vote to repeal net neutrality, and the rules were wiped from the books last June.
Since then, lawmakers in several states, including California, voted to make net neutrality the law in those states (although the Trump administration is suing). Net neutrality has turned into a political football and according to CNET, Democrats were unable to garner enough votes to use the Congressional Review Act as a way to overturn the FCC’s decision. With the Democrats about to take over the House one week from tomorrow, there could be some federal legislation, although any bill passing the House would still have to get past the Republican controlled Senate and be signed by President Trump. That seems like a long shot.
As a result, all eyes watching this battle will turn to the courtroom next year. Matt Schettenhelm, a legal analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, says, “I expect the next chapter in the net neutrality story to be mostly about waiting for litigation.” Oral arguments are scheduled to begin on February 1st at the Federal Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. In that case, 22 state attorneys general and the AG of Washington D.C., along with organizations and tech groups, are asking the appeals court to overturn the FCC’s repeal.

Some legal experts say that the court will probably affirm the FCC’s ability to stop states from enacting their own net neutrality laws. The FCC argues that requiring ISPs and wireless carriers to follow 50 different state laws is too complicated. Still, most of these analysts also expect this issue to go all the way to the Supreme Court. But before it does, there is a good chance that the Democrats will capture the White House in 2020 and throw FCC Chairman Pit out on his butt. That would allow a newly composed FCC to return the net neutrality rules to the books.

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