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Midterm Results and Net Neutrality: Will Congress Rule Over the FCC?

December 18th, 2018   ||    by Oriana Schwindt

After a long election season with some interesting political ad trends, the midterm elections are over. Though they appeared at first to be only a mild victory for the Democrats, the final results were much more in line with the “blue wave” predicted by entities like FiveThirtyEight.

It should be noted that the opposition party generally picks up control of the House in the first midterm elections after a new president comes in. What does this mean for regulation in the broader TV industry?

FCC Leadership

Observers have linked these midterm results and net neutrality, for one, notes NBC News. The FCC, under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai, has adopted the opposite stance on net neutrality than that of former Chairman Tom Wheeler.

In 2015, the Wheeler-led FCC declared that internet providers must treat all of their traffic equally, regardless of the source. That meant no throttling data from, say, Comcast—and no fast lanes, either. Pai, though, moved in December 2017 to undo these regulations, which were officially rolled back in June 2018.

Democrat-Majority House and Regulations

A Democrat-majority House could, in theory, vote to reinstate the regulations of the Obama-era FCC. In May, the Senate voted by a narrow margin to stop the rollback, per the Washington Post, leaving the net neutrality regulations in the House’s hands. The measure stalled in the House, though.

A petition to hold a vote on the measure in the House needed 218 signatures. Although net neutrality advocates both within and without tried to whip up enough signatures, as the months wore on, the petition remained more than 40 signatures shy of the required 218.

While the incoming class of Representatives might hold enough pro-net neutrality members to resurrect the issue, they aren’t sworn in until January. The deadline for a vote was December 10, a deadline that came and went without the necessary number of signatures.

Republican-Majority Senate

It’s worth taking note, too, that the Republicans solidified their Senate majority in the midterm elections. While there are Republican Senators who are pro-net neutrality—three voted with Democrat Senators on the net neutrality protections—that pro-regulation stance may be limited only to net neutrality and not extend to the regulation of mergers like that of Disney and Fox, and may not be enough to avoid the death of any bill that purports to supersede FCC regulation (or lack thereof).

And then there’s the final step in the legislative process: any bill would also need the president’s signature. Given the current president’s anti-regulatory stance, the likelihood of President Trump overturning his chosen FCC chairman’s directive is quite low. Without the votes to supersede a presidential veto, any attempt to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality regulations or introducing further regulation of the broadcast industry is likely to fail.

Too, the FCC is not the only agency that serves at the pleasure of the executive branch, and other entities that would challenge FCC regulations, including the Senate subcommittee on communications technology, innovation, and the internet, are not likely to do so.

So while it is possible that a Democrat-majority House will resurrect issues like net neutrality and anti-trust, the midterm results and net neutrality are not as closely linked as net neutrality and regulation proponents may hope, and opponents may fear.

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