Jan 25, 2017

The plot to kill net neutrality

Illustration: Greg Ruben / Axios

The FCC's rules banning internet providers from favoring some content on their network over other content — beloved by tech companies and despised by telecom carriers — might not last much longer.

Ever since the FCC adopted the rules two years ago, internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, along with Congressional Republicans, have pledged to dismantle or drastically weaken them. Now with Trump in charge, they can do it.

It's a two-front war: The dismantling effort could happen in Congress, at the FCC, or both. New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the most senior Republican on the panel and a vocal critic of the rules, can start the reversal process on day one. But that doesn't mean he will. He may opt to let Republicans in Congress resolve the issue with legislation. And both lawmakers and commissioners will be watching what the courts do on the issue.

Here's how it could play out, according to experts and key lawmakers.

At the FCC:

  • Pai can simply decide not to enforce the rules on the books. But stopping there doesn't do anything to prevent Democrats from enforcing them again after the next leadership change. Republicans want to eradicate the current rules once and for all. (Pai may agree with the general idea of an open internet, but he's adamant that treating broadband like a utility isn't the way to do it.)
  • Pai could start a formal process to unwind the rules more permanently, inviting a repeat of the millions of comments that came in from the public the last time the FCC had this debate (Hello, Jon Oliver). The public could also comment on whether to reverse the decision to reclassify broadband service under the law, which gave the FCC broader authority to regulate ISPs.
  • He could use a procedural tactic to scale back the commission's expanded authority more quickly without seeking public comment. He would still need to get comments on whether to keep the rules specifically banning blocking, throttling and fast lanes.

Yes, but: Keep in mind that in any formal proceeding, the commission would have to legally justify why it was reversing its own rules — a tough task considering a federal court last year ruled to uphold them.

A caveat: A person familiar with discussions at the agency on this issue says they remain in flux.

In Congress:

  • Lawmakers could bring back a proposal from 2015 that preserves some elements of the FCC rules but throws out others. It would ban throttling, blocking and fast lanes while limiting the rest of the commission's authority over broadband service. The chairs of both the Senate and House committees that oversee telecom issues signed on to that bill two years ago. Oregon Republican Greg Walden, the new chair of the House's Energy and Commerce Committee, told Axios the compromise was "absolutely" still on the table. His Senate counterpart, John Thune, has said he'd like to revive the deal.
  • Some Republicans in Congress — including the incoming chair of a key House subcommittee on this issue — have said there should not be any net neutrality regulations at all. They could push for a bill that would make it clear providers could block or throttle content or offer paid prioritization.

But wait: Congress might not want to act until the FCC wipes the slate clean on the rules. That could push off Congressional action into the later part of 2017. And the closer they get to the midterm elections in 2018, the harder it will be to make a deal on pretty much any policy.

Regardless of the process that will soon play out, here's how the story ends:

GIPHY

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 a.m. ET: 859,796 — Total deaths: 42,332 — Total recoveries: 178,300.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in confirmed cases. Total confirmed cases as of 2 a.m. ET: 189,618 — Total deaths: 4,079 — Total recoveries: 7,109.
  3. Business updates: Should you pay your rent or mortgage during the coronavirus pandemic? Find out if you are protected under the CARES Act.
  4. Public health updates: More than 400 long-term care facilities across the U.S. report patients with coronavirus — Older adults and people with underlying health conditions are more at risk, new data shows.
  5. Federal government latest: President Trump said the next two weeks would be "very painful," with projections indicating the virus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans.
  6. Coronavirus in custody: Inmates in all U.S. federal prisons are set to enter a 14-day quarantine on April 1. A federal judge on Tuesday ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release 10 detained immigrants who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 while in confinement.
  7. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Captain of nuclear aircraft carrier docked in Guam pleaded with the U.S. Navy for more resources after more than 100 members of his crew tested positive.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
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NYC races to build field hospitals as coronavirus death toll tops 1,000

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces at the USTA Bille Jean King tennis center that the venue will be transformed into a 350-bed temporary hospital. Photo: Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference Tuesday of plans to triple hospital bed numbers to combat the novel coronavirus by transforming facilities into makeshift hospitals — including U.S. Open tennis courts.

The big picture: The city now accounts for a quarter of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. — more than 1,000 as of Wednesday morning. De Blasio said the city had "about 20,000 working hospital beds in our major hospitals" before the outbreak. "We now need to, in just the next weeks ... produce three times that number," he said.

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U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll tops 4,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 4,000 people in the U.S. — with over 1,000 deaths reported in New York City alone, per Johns Hopkins data. The number of deaths are still much lower than those reported in Italy, Spain and China.

Of note: Hours earlier, President Trump noted it's "going to be a very painful two weeks," with projections indicating the novel coronavirus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans — even with strict social distancing guidelines in place. "They are going to be facing a war zone," he said of medical workers.

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