The Senate has voted to save net neutrality, but dont get your hopes up: theres still a long, likely impossible journey ahead if the policy is to be saved in the immediate future. In a 52–47 vote today, senators voted to overturn the Federal Communication Commissions Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which took net neutrality rules off the books. They were able to do so using the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, which allows Congress to reverse recent decisions by government agencies. Republican control of Congress means that such a measure wouldnt normally even make it up for a vote; but the CRA allows senators to force a vote by obtaining 30 signatures. All 49 Democrats voted in favor, as well as Republican Senators Susan Collins, of Maine; John Kennedy, of Louisiana; and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska. While advocates have argued that this is a step toward reinstating net neutrality, its really a long-shot attempt that seems to be meant more to get the issue back on voters minds — and to force politicians to take a position ahead of whats expected to be a tumultuous midterm election. In order for net neutrality to actually be reinstated, two more things have to happen. First, the House has to use the CRA to overturn the policy as well. Thats even harder. Instead of 30 signatures, net neutrality supporters have to collect signatures from a full majority of House members. Even if they get every single Democrat on board — and they dont have that yet — theyd still need the support of 22 Republicans. And finally, if that happened and they all voted to reverse the policy, itd still have to get signed by President Trump, who is not a fan of the policy. While its obviously an uphill battle, net neutrality advocates seem to be holding out hope that they could actually get through the House, too. Theres a degree of bipartisan agreement that something needs to be done on net neutrality. And with midterms coming up, representatives in challenging districts may be more inclined to support the popular, consumer-friendly policy. As for Trump, well, you never know exactly how hes going to wake up each day, or so the argument goes. In reality, this is more about setting up whatever comes next for net neutrality, likely a few years down the line. The general consensus at this point is that net neutrality is now out of the FCCs hands, and that Congress will have to act to reinstate some of its outgoing rules. Its not at all clear how soon thatll happen, but forcing Congress to take a vote helps to clarify the playing field and make sure its something legislators are thinking about.
Todays the big day for the Senates big push to undo the FCCs Restoring Internet Freedom order nullifying 2015s net neutrality rules. A vote is scheduled for this afternoon on whether to repeal that order, though as of this writing the coalition is still one vote shy of making it happen. The vote is an application of the Congressional Review Act, which as you might guess from the name allows Congress to review and if necessary undo recent regulations enacted by federal agencies. Its been seldom used for decades but the current administration has been very free with it as a method of squelching rules passed in the twilight of the Obama era. Today Senate Democrats strike back with the same weapon. A simple majority is required, but right now only a single Republican Senator, Maines Susan Collins, has courageously stepped across the aisle to join the Democrat-led effort. One more would pass the bill, though it would still have to get through the House and the presidents desk, making its prognosis poor. The FCC just repealed net neutrality. What happens next? That matters little, though: until today, many senators will have been able to largely stay silent on the issue, and a vote to support this highly unpopular rule may come back to bite them come midterms. Net neutrality may very well be an issue constituencies care about, or at least thats what Democratic challengers are hoping for. On the other hand, a Democratic-led CRA is a direct, partisan attack on the administration, which has supported this FCCs actions, and would cause return to Obama-era rules, which few Republicans would relish. Will any Republican senators see the writing on the wall and flip? Or will they stick to the party and leave it to be decided by a tie-breaker vote almost certain to go in their favor? Tune in to the Senate webcast to find out; the vote should happen around 3PM Eastern, but as always in government timing is only approximate.