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Photo illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

After Republicans in Congress pushed through a resolution to overturn internet privacy rules, which is expected to be signed by the president, some Democrats are warning an agreement on net neutrality may be harder to reach. Rep. Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, compared this week's vote to a "sledgehammer" and said it "really poisons the well" for a broader net neutrality bill.

Why this matters: A legislative replacement for the FCC's net neutrality rules was never going to come easy. But any increased skepticism focuses the spotlight on Trump's FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and what he plans to do about the rules. Here's where things stand now:

At the FCC:

  • There's little doubt that Pai hopes to see scrapped the legal designation of broadband service that allowed the FCC to implement its net neutrality rules in the first place. He hasn't provided much in the way of details on how he'll go about doing this.
  • Pai's argument for undoing the rules is clear. He said at a conference in Barcelona a month ago that the rules "injected tremendous uncertainty into the broadband market," which he called "the enemy of growth."
  • Gigi Sohn, an advisor to former Chairman Tom Wheeler who spearheaded the net neutrality rules, said that consumer advocates see the privacy debate as a way to get people "excited and active on net neutrality" as the issue looms at the FCC. Pai, of course, will have his own vocal telecom allies in whatever path he choses to pursue.

Two angles: Proponents of the net neutrality rules will argue the fight over the privacy regulations is evidence that keeping the current regime in place will best protect consumers from bad ISP behavior. Detractors will say that stripping that regime — and handing authority over internet provider privacy back over to the Federal Trade Commission — will better serve consumers.

On Capitol Hill:

  • This month's votes to overturn the FCC's broadband privacy rules, which were born out of the net neutrality regulations, have become a front-row tech issue with Democrats. For example, the party's campaign arms are using it to attack Republicans.
  • Not every lawmaker is on the same page as Pallone. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who would play a major role in any deal, says he doesn't want to link the privacy scuffle with the broader net neutrality debate. Same for Sen. Brian Schatz: "I don't know that it's the same thing."
  • Top Republicans insist they haven't scuttled a deal. Sen. John Thune, who is pushing for negotiations, says he thinks Democrats might be prodded towards the negotiating table by FCC action. The death of the privacy regulations does mean that privacy rules for ISPs could be used to soothe the fears of lawmakers wary of a deal. Thune says he's willing to consider that if it will bring Democrats to the table.

Reality check: Senate Democrats are unlikely to strike up serious conversations with Republicans about the issue before they see what Pai is up to. "I think right now it depends on what the FCC does, and it's highly unlikely that the legislative branch is going to go first," said Schatz.

The bottom line: Pai is likely to make the first move here, and he hasn't committed to a timeframe for action. Watch how the "netroots" advocates and Congress respond to his decision. "It's a safe assumption that [Chairman] Pai is going to move forward with his own proposal and we'll have to take a look at that and evaluate what the path forward is after that," Schatz said, "whether our best strategy is litigation or legislation."

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The modern way to hire a big-city police chief

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

When it comes to picking a city's top cop, closed-door selection processes have been replaced by highly public exercises where everyone gets to vet the candidates — who must have better community-relations skills than ever.

Why it matters: In the post-George-Floyd era, with policing under utmost scrutiny, the choosing of a police chief has become something akin to an election, with the need to build consensus around a candidate. And the candidate pool has gotten smaller.

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1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Speculative crypto art market takes off

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Move over, GameStop. The newest speculative game in town is NFTs — digital files that can be owned and traded on a plethora of new online platforms.

Why it matters: Most NFTs include some kind of still or moving image, which makes them similar to many physical art objects. Some of them, including a gif of Nyan Cat flying through the sky with a pop-tart body and rainbow trail, can be worth more than your house.

New coronavirus cases fall by 20%

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New coronavirus infections continued their sharp decline over the past week, and are now back down to pre-Thanksgiving levels.

The big picture: Given the U.S.’ experience over the past year, it can be hard to trust anything that looks like good news, without fearing that another shoe is about to drop. But the U.S. really is doing something right lately. Cases are way down, vaccinations are way up, and that’s going to save a lot of lives.