What the midterm election results could mean for net neutrality

What the midterm election results could mean for net neutrality

Democrats seized control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday night, and some think there could be a renewed push to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality rules.


Net neutrality rules requiring internet providers to treat all online traffic equally were implemented in 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission. The regulations stipulated that broadband providers were not allowed to block or slow down internet traffic, and they were not allowed to offer so-called “fast lanes” to companies willing to pay extra.


But in December 2017, the FCC, led by Ajit Pai, whom President Donald Trump appointed as chairman, voted to roll back the 2015 regulations. Advocates of the rollback said the rules were stifling new investment in broadband because investors were worried about federal rate regulation and other possible restrictions.


The rollback officially took effect in June. But now that the Democrats control the House, legislation to return to the Obama-era rules could be back on the table, said Florian Schaub, a net neutrality expert and assistant professor at University of Michigan’s School of Information.


Read: Democrats take control of House after health care, immigration drive voters to polls


Also: Why stock investors say ‘gridlock is good’ after midterms deliver split Congress


The Senate in May actually approved a resolution to undo the FCC’s deregulation moves. Senate supporters of net neutrality put the legislation forward under the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, a legislative loophole that allows Congress — with a majority vote in each chamber and the president's signature — to overturn regulations issued by a federal agency. But the CRA bill never made it through the then-Republican-controlled House.


”Now that the House is controlled by the Democrats, there could be chance for both chambers to agree to reinstate net neutrality,” said Schaub, though he acknowledged it would be difficult to predict how such a bill would be received in the Senate now that Republicans have solidified their majority.


Related: The battle over net neutrality continues— here’s what that means for you


The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to throw out a 2016 appeals court ruling that had upheld the Obama-era net neutrality policy. Although Monday’s action has no effect on the 2017 repeal of the rules, it could make things easier for net neutrality advocates in any future legal battles. AT&T Inc. T, +0.45%   was among those who asked the court to void the 2016 ruling.


Verizon Communications Inc. VZ, +0.77%  , Comcast Corp. CMCSA, +1.51%   and AT&T are supportive of the FCC’s current stance, while tech companies like Alphabet Inc. GOOG, +3.56%  , Facebook Inc. FB, +1.06%   and Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, +6.86%   are not.