- Thomson Reuters
- The US Senate voted 52-47 on Wednesday to put the Federal Communications Commission’s net-neutrality rules back in place.
- The Senate resolution would overturn a vote by the agency in December to scuttle its open-internet regulations.
- The resolution had drawn the support of half of all senators, including all Democrats; two additional Republicans backed it in the final vote.
- Despite the Senate’s vote, the resolution faces a dubious future, as it would still need to pass the House of Representatives and be signed by President Donald Trump to become law.
The US Senate on Wednesday voted narrowly in favor of reinstating the Federal Communications Commission’s net-neutrality rules, a surprising move that could lead to the reversal of one of the Trump administration’s most controversial policies involving America’s tech industry.
Three Republicans joined with all 47 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning senators to back the measure.
Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, a Republican who voted in favor of the measure, said that for him the decision came down to whether he or anyone else should trust their local cable company, from which most Americans get their internet access.
“If you trust your cable company, you’re going to support” the FCC’s move in December to eliminate its net-neutrality rules, Kennedy said. “If you believe as I do, that I trust everybody, but I still believe in verification – it’s like I said in my campaign – I believe love is the answer, but back in Louisiana, I still own a handgun just in case.”
He added: “I just think there should be a free and open internet.”
Supporters of net neutrality cheered the Senate’s vote.
“This is a historic day in the fight for the future of the Internet,” said Evan Greer, the deputy director of Fight for the Future, an internet activist organization that had been pushing for the resolution.
The Senate’s vote showed that “the voices of the American people were heard,” said Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) May 16, 2018
Though the vote on the measure had been expected for months, its outcome had been uncertain. Fifty senators had declared their support for the resolution – one shy of the majority needed to pass it.
In the end, 47 senators – all Republicans – voted against it. Sen. John McCain, who has been receiving treatment for a brain tumor, did not vote.
Republican opponents blamed the vote on ‘politics’
Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who led the effort against the resolution, decried its passage.
Thune has called on Congress to pass legislation that would enshrine at least some version of net neutrality into law. He said the passage of the resolution would encourage Democrats to hold off on coming to the table to negotiate over such a bill.
“This vote was about politics, not protecting net neutrality,” he said.
Though few Republicans joined the Democrats to pass the measure, and Thune and other Republicans opposing it tried to paint the debate in partisan terms, net neutrality in general – and the FCC’s net-neutrality rules in particular – enjoy widespread, bipartisan support outside the Beltway. A poll last month found that 86% of the public, including 82% of Republicans, supported leaving the rules in place.
Earlier Wednesday, the measure overcame a procedural hurdle that portended its eventual outcome. Three Republicans – Kennedy, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who all eventually voted in favor of the resolution – joined their colleagues across the aisle to pass a motion to proceed with a final vote.
Senate Democrats cheered the procedural vote. In a tweet, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota called it an “amazing victory for consumers, small businesses and rural communities.”
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 resolution is under the Congressional Review Act, a law that allows Congress, with a simple-majority vote in both houses, to overturn new regulations by federal agencies within 60 legislative days of implementation.
The resolution seeks to overturn a rule voted on by the FCC in December that would eliminate most of its net-neutrality regulations.
Net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the internet should be treated the same. While the name for the principle isn’t that old, the basic idea predates the internet and has its roots in the telephone and telegraph networks and even older services.
For nearly all of the past 10 years, the FCC has had in place rules that sought to guarantee net-neutrality protections. The latest version of the agency’s rules, from 2015, barred internet service providers from blocking, slowing, or giving preferential treatment to particular online sites or services.
The FCC in December reversed its longstanding policy on net neutrality
The FCC’s new anti-net-neutrality regulation, set to take effect next month, eliminates those prohibitions. Instead, it simply requires providers to disclose how they handle internet traffic. It also hands off to the Federal Trade Commission the job of ensuring providers abide by the terms they’ve disclosed and watching out for anticompetitive behavior.
That the FCC overturned its net-neutrality rules was no surprise. Ajit Pai, the new chairman appointed by President Donald Trump, made clear that he opposed them and would seek to eliminate them when he took over as the FCC’s head.
But Pai did so despite widespread support for the rules; a survey taken around the time of the FCC’s December vote found that an overwhelming majority of Americans supported keeping them in place, including most Republican voters.
Despite the Senate’s passing of the resolution, the measure is unlikely to be enacted. It has drawn far less support in the House of Representatives, and Trump is unlikely to sign a resolution that would effectively rebuke his FCC chairman.
And they’re hopeful the resolution will gain steam now that the Senate has passed it.
“My hope is that as the public gets more and more involved in the course of this year that we will be able to get more Republicans to support it, especially in the House of Representatives,” said Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, who led the effort to pass the resolution. “I think it’s an education process.”