WASHINGTON ― Senate Democrats forced a vote Wednesday to repeal changes to Obama-era net neutrality rules, which are scheduled to expire next month.
The Federal Communications Commission voted in December to overturn the rules, which prevent internet service providers, or ISPs, from treating certain content differently. The change, internet freedom advocates warned, would allow ISPs to block, slow down or charge more for certain content ― including on popular streaming websites like Netflix or Amazon.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Kennedy (R-La.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined all Democrats in approving a resolution Wednesday that would undo the FCC’s decision. The effort to force a vote was made possible by the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress the power to reverse any federal regulation within 60 legislative days of enactment.
But the bipartisan 52-47 vote was only a temporary victory. The resolution faces tepid support in the GOP-controlled House, not to mention ongoing opposition from President Donald Trump, who would still have to sign the measure if it made it to his desk.
“At stake is the future of the internet, which until this point in our history, has remained free and open, accessible and affordable to most Americans,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday, in support of the resolution. “That fundamental equality of access is what has made the internet so dynamic; a catalyst for innovation, a tool for learning, a means of instant and worldwide communication.”
“The bipartisan 52-47 vote was only a temporary victory. The resolution faces tepid support in the GOP-controlled House, not to mention ongoing opposition from President Donald Trump.”
Despite the resolution’s long odds at actual passage, Democrats are gaining a winning issue in this year’s midterm election ― which may have been the goal all along. By pointing to the resolution, they can paint Republicans ― especially vulnerable GOP members in the House ― as beholden to wealthy cable and internet corporations. And they can use the controversial decision to repeal the rules as a way to get out the vote in November.
“The rich and powerful really want to win this fight. They’re going to be spending a lot of money. So we have to have the people of America weigh in,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said Thursday on the floor.
Republicans, meanwhile, slammed the effort to repeal changes to net neutrality rules as a politically-motivated exercise and urged Democrats to work with them on bipartisan legislation to address regulations concerning internet streaming.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) called the resolution a “dead end canyon” and claimed all it does is “whip up some people who are perhaps interested in trying to use this as a political wedge issue but it’s not going to do anything to solve the problem.”
Kennedy, on the other hand, said he voted with Democrats because Americans in rural communities ― many in his state ― could be adversely impacted by the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality.
“Under the [FCC] 2017 order, a cable company can censor, throttle, or employ fast lanes so long as it discloses,” he said. “The response from the other side of that is, well, just switch cable companies. [But] 22 percent of all Louisianians and 19 percent of all Americans have access to only one internet service provider that can provide the minimum FCC mandated speed. So what are they going to do?”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified Sen. Jeff Merkley as a Republican.