The U.S. Senate voted to save net neutrality rules repealed by the Federal Communications Commission in December by a 52-47 margin. The 52 votes were more than expected after three Republicans broke ranks to join the bloc of 49 Senate Democrats voting to reverse the ruling.
Reuters reports some Republicans are concerned that repealing net neutrality could mobilize younger people to vote Democratic in the 2018 midterm elections.
Senate Democrats arranged the vote with the support of internet activist groups that overwhelmingly support preserving net neutrality (Fight for the Future).
“Net neutrality” refers to the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) treat all traffic on the internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform or application. Under these edicts, internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content. (Read more from WikiTribune on what net neutrality means for consumers.)
Breaking: the U.S. Senate just voted 52-47 vote on the bill to restore #NetNeutrality and to protect a fair and open internet. Amazing victory for consumers, small businesses and rural communities. Final vote at 3. Watch on CSpan!
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) May 16, 2018
The pro-net neutrality measure will also need to pass the House of Representatives if the Obama-era policy is to be preserved. The House currently has 42 more Republicans than Democrats, and few have offered sympathetic words for saving net neutrality. President Trump would also need to sign the bill into law.
“It’s going nowhere, and we all know that,” Senator John Thune (R) said on the Senate floor, in support of the Trump administration’s decision to limit net neutrality rules.
Congressional Review Act
Democrats are using the “Congressional Review Act” to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules. The Congressional Review Act (CRA) is a legislative tool that allows Congress to block regulations made by federal agencies within 60 days of when they were passed.
Republicans tried to use CRA during the Obama administration to block mainly Environmental Protection Agency rules. In Trump’s first year in office, Republican lawmakers used CRA 16 times to reverse policies made by federal agencies under the Obama administration, according to Regulatory Studies Center in George Washington University.
Now, net neutrality activists want Congress to use the CRA to block the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) decision to reclassify broadband internet as a Title I “informational service.” By doing so, internet service providers such as Verizon and AT&T will be able to prioritize certain online traffic over others, effectively ending net neutrality.
The fear is that ISPs will favor internet companies that pay them more, while throttling businesses that are unable to pay this sort of upfront cost.
All 49 Democratic senators, and Republican moderate Sen. Susan Collins were expected to protect the Obama-era net neutrality policy, according to CNN. Sen. Lisa Murkowsi and Sen. John Kennedy were the two undecided Republicans before the vote, and are the two who joined Democrats and Sen. Collins for the CRA vote. (CNN stream). The final roll call will not be ready until 3:30pm. A maximum of 99 Senators will vote with Republican Sen. John McCain absent because of illness.
Ways net neutrality rules can be saved
Net neutrality rules will end on June 11, according to FCC chair Ajit Pai, and will not return unless one of the following happens:
- The Congressional Review Act move is passed by both houses of congress.
- Congress passes a law that reclassifies broadband internet as a Title II “telecommunication service” or protects net neutrality in another way.
- FCC reclassifies broadband internet on its own (Currently has a 3-2 Republican majority).
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