Senators Force A Vote That May Ultimately Reverse FCC, Restore Net Neutrality

If the effort makes it through the chamber, tougher battles await.

Prodded by Democrats, the Senate is set late next week to vote on what could be the first step toward restoring net neutrality rules.

The Federal Communications Commission repealed the protections in December despite widespread public opposition and a request from 18 state attorneys general to delay the action over concerns that the comment process was corrupted by fraudulent messages. The repeal effort was led by Ajit Pai, who President Donald Trump appointed to chair the FCC.

A petition filed by Senate Democrats on Wednesday will force the net neutrality vote in the chamber, where it has a good chance of passing, perhaps as narrowly as 50-49.

According to Reuters, all of the chamber’s 47 Democrats, the two independents who caucus with the party and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) are expected to support the measure. That would outvote the remaining Republican senators, who are down one vote as Sen. John McCain of Arizona remains on medical absence. Potentially, other moderate Republicans could join Collins and back the effort.

Clearing the Senate hurdle likely is the easy part.

The measure would then go to the House, where Republicans have a larger majority. And if it passes the House, the legislation would still need Trump’s signature ― no sure thing, given that he put Pai in the position to lead the push overturning the Obama-era net neutrality rules.

Supporters of net neutrality protest the FCC's decision in Los Angeles on Nov. 28, 2017.
Supporters of net neutrality protest the FCC's decision in Los Angeles on Nov. 28, 2017.

The FCC’s repeal rolled back so-called “Title II” regulations that classified the internet as a public utility and which, among other things, required internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all of the data traveling on their networks equally.

Absent those protections, ISPs such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon (which owns HuffPost’s parent company, Oath) could prioritize their own content at the expense of others.

(HuffPost’s union is represented by the Writers Guild of America, East, which supports net neutrality and opposed its repeal.)

Battle For The Net, a net neutrality advocacy group, is organizing demonstrations in support of the Senate effort on Monday. And many of its members ― including websites like Reddit, Tinder, Tumblr and Wikimedia ― began running “red alert” banners on Wednesday to raise awareness on the issue. 

“Net Neutrality is overwhelmingly supported by people across the political spectrum: Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike,” Craig Aaron, head of the pro net-neutrality advocacy group Free Press Action Fund, said in an emailed statement.

“Congress has the chance to rewind a terrible Trump administration policy decision, and one of its least popular, too,” he said. “The public will be closely watching who’s looking out for them and who’s only serving phone and cable lobbyists.”