Senate Democrats today filed a long-promised petition to prevent the repeal of net neutrality rules in a move that will force a vote of the full Senate by a deadline of June 12.
The Senate will have to vote on a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution of disapproval, which would nullify the Federal Communications Commission’s December 2017 vote to repeal the nation’s net neutrality rules.
This is the same mechanism that Congressional Republicans used to eliminate broadband privacy rules last year.
If successful, the Democrats’ resolution would prevent the deregulation of the broadband industry and maintain rules that prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.
“The CRA resolution would fully restore the rules that ensure Americans aren’t subject to higher prices, slower Internet traffic, and even blocked websites because the big Internet service providers want to pump up their profits,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said at a press conference today. “By passing this resolution, we can send a clear message that this Congress won’t fall to the special interest agenda of President Trump and his broadband baron allies but will rather do right by the people who sent us here.”
Democrats have better odds in Senate than House
All 49 members of the Senate Democratic caucus and one Republican—Sen. Susan Collins of Maine—have pledged to support the pro-net neutrality bill. Democrats have been trying to get one more Republican on board because 51 votes would typically be required for a majority. But this bill could pass with 50 votes because of the cancer-related absence of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), wrote today.
“There are a number of Republican senators who have shown an openness to potentially voting yes, and I know those Republican senators will take notice of all the constituent calls and emails they will receive today and in the coming days,” Markey said.
Online services rallied for the Democratic net neutrality bill today with a “Red Alert” protest that involved “Reddit, Tinder, Mozilla, OK Cupid, GitHub, Tumblr, Etsy, Pornhub, Foursquare, Match.com, and thousands of other sites,” according to co-organizer Fight for the Future.
The odds are worse for Democrats in the House. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) told that he doesn’t think the Democrats’ bill will reach the House floor.
“It takes 218 House lawmakers to force a vote via discharge petition, and Republicans have a 236-193 majority—meaning more than a dozen Republicans would have to come on board in addition to every Democrat,” wrote.
The House version of the bill has 160 supporters so far, Markey said.
GOP and telecom lobby unite in opposition
Republican lawmakers and telecom lobbyists spoke out against the Democratic bill today. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) wrote an op-ed for CNBC saying Democrats are trying to preserve “outdated, monopoly-era regulations.” (The rules were implemented in 2015 but rely on the FCC’s longstanding authority to regulate telecommunications providers as common carriers.)
“If the Democrats are serious about long-term protections for consumers, they should look ahead towards a bipartisan solution, rather than looking backwards and trying to reverse the current FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” Thune wrote.
“Restoring Internet Freedom” is the name FCC Chairman Ajit Pai chose for his order to eliminate net neutrality rules. The FCC vote to repeal net neutrality rules is final, but Pai has delayed the actual implementation of the repeal, perhaps to give Congress time to negotiate a replacement.
Thune wrote that he wants bipartisan legislation “that would permanently ban blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization by broadband Internet providers.” Thune’s proposal would prevent the FCC from regulating Internet service providers as common carriers, however. That would leave consumers with fewer safeguards against unreasonable price increases and other problems.
The USTelecom industry lobby group complained that current net neutrality rules target ISPs without regulating the likes of Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google. “The hypocrisy of such a reversion is particularly extreme with Big Tech facing serious questions and near daily headlines about its handling of consumer data,” USTelecom wrote.
The Senate Democrats’ bill is one of several ongoing efforts to preserve net neutrality rules. More than 20 Democratic state attorneys general are suing the FCC to prevent the repeal, and several states have implemented their own net neutrality measures.