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.
Hot on the heels of a surprising 52-47 Senate disapproval of the FCCs new, weaker net neutrality rules, the House of Representatives will soon attempt to force a similar vote under the Congressional Review Act. Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA) announced in a statement and at a press conference following the Senate vote that he will begin the process first thing tomorrow morning. I have introduced a companion CRA in the house, Rep. Doyle said, but Im also going to begin a discharge petition which we will have open for signature tomorrow morning. And I urge every member whos uproots a free and open internet to join me and sign this petition so we can bring this legislation to the floor. The CRA requires Senate and House to submit the resolution itself, in the formers case Joint Resolution 52, after which a certain number of people to sign off on whats called a discharge petition, actually forces a vote. Senate votes to reverse FCC order and restore net neutralityIn the Senate this number is only 30, which makes it a useful tool for the minority party, which can easily gather that many votes if its an important issue (a full majority is still required to pass the resolution). But in the House a majority is required, 218 at present. Thats a more difficult ask, since Democrats only hold 193 seats there. Theyd need two dozen Republicans to switch sides, and while its clear from the defection of three Senators from the party line that such bipartisan support is possible, its far from a done deal. Todays success may help move the needle, though. Should the required votes be gathered, which could happen tomorrow, or take much longer, the vote will then be scheduled, though a congressional aide I talked to was unsure how quickly it would follow. It only took a week in the Senate to go from petition to floor vote, but that period could be longer in the House depending on how the schedule works out.