Senate defies "armies of lobbyists," but House may help FCC kill net neutrality. The US Senate today voted to reverse the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules, with all members of the Democratic caucus and three Republicans voting in favor of net neutrality. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has scheduled his repeal to take effect on June 11. If Congress doesn't act, the net neutrality rules and the FCC's classification of ISPs as common carriers would be eliminated on that date. Democrats face much longer odds in the House, where Republicans hold a 236-193 majority. Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate, but Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) broke ranks in order to support net neutrality and common carrier regulation of broadband providers. The vote was 52-47. Before the vote, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) urged fellow senators to disregard the "armies of lobbyists marching the halls of Congress on behalf of big Internet service providers." Lobbyists tried to convince senators that net neutrality rules aren't needed "because ISPs will self-regulate" and that blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization are just hypothetical harms, Markey said. Lobby groups representing all the major cable companies, telecoms, and mobile carriers urged senators to reject the attempt to restore net neutrality rules. The lobby groups complained that net neutrality rules don't apply to "the practices of edge providers, such as search engines and social media platforms. " That's no surprise, because the FCC regulates telecommunications networks and net neutrality rules apply specifically to broadband networks—websites and online services are regulated separately by the Federal Trade Commission. Markey said that net neutrality rules are needed because of events like Comcast throttling BitTorrent traffic and AT&T blocking Skype and other voice applications that compete against its mobile phone service. "Net neutrality is the free speech issue of our time," Markey said. Large majorities of both Democratic and Republican voters support net neutrality, Markey noted. Thousands of small businesses wrote to Congress in support of net neutrality, and "millions of Americans sent letters, posted tweets, and made calls defending net neutrality," he said. The FCC's anti-net neutrality vote "neglected the will of everyday Americans and gave a gift to the rich and powerful," providing ISPs with "new tools to inflate profits" at the expense of Internet users and small businesses, Markey said. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tore into the Trump administration and FCC, saying the commission "has become a puppet for giant Internet providers." Warren continued: The FCC's current chairman, Ajit Pai, has made it clear that he will work to put special interests over what's good for the American people. The FCC was once an agency dedicated to protecting and promoting the public interest, but it has morphed into an agency that exists solely to do the bidding of giant telecom companies. It is a disgrace. When Pai unveiled his "plan to destroy net neutrality, he made it clear that he would ignore the views of millions of Americans who weighed in to urge him to abandon that plan," Warren said. Pai criticized the vote today, saying, Its disappointing that Senate Democrats forced this resolution through by a narrow margin. But ultimately, I'm confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet will fail." Pai's order that eliminates net neutrality rules was titled "Restoring Internet Freedom." Today, Pai said that the Internet "will continue to be free and open once the Restoring Internet Freedom Order takes effect on June 11." "The cable industry ranks at the very bottom of 43 industries in consumer satisfaction," Cantwell also said, arguing that Internet users need protection from the companies' anti-consumer practices. Repealing net neutrality would create "toll booths all over the Internet," and "those higher costs would, in one way or another, come out of your pocket," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said that all senators want to prevent blocking and throttling, and he argued that Congress should pass bipartisan legislation to protect net neutrality. But Wicker did not say whether he wants a ban on paid prioritization, which would let ISPs charge websites and online services for better access to Internet users than online services that don't pay such fees. "Today, some in Congress are trying to give the government more control again, applying utility-style regulations that would threaten the Internet as we know it," Wicker said. US Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) criticized Democrats for trying to maintain "partisan, onerous, and heavy-handed regulations on the Internet. " Some aspects of the FCC's net neutrality regulation "lack a fundamental connection to net neutrality principles and harm consumer freedom," Thune said. By way of example, Thune criticized the Obama-era FCC for trying to stop certain zero-rating plans. The FCC determined in January 2017 that AT&T and Verizon Wireless violated net neutrality by letting their own video services stream on their mobile networks without counting against customers' data caps, while charging other video providers for the same data cap exemptions. Pai reversed that decision. "Net neutrality isn't about regulating mobile phone plan offerings to meet a government Internet standard," Thune said. "But the Markey resolution would restore rules that the Obama Federal Communications Commission used to scrutinize such popular and affordable plans." Thune noted that in 2015, he proposed legislation that would have prohibited blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. Democrats "reached the cynical conclusion that exploiting concern about the Internet outweighed the value of working with Republicans to pass net neutrality protections," Thune said. Thune's proposal would also forbid the FCC from regulating Internet service providers as common carriers. Common carrier regulation can go beyond net neutrality by letting the FCC protect consumers from unjust or unreasonable rates and practices in general. Though Thune supports a ban on paid prioritization, there are Republicans who want to let ISPs charge for fast lanes. Thune acknowledged that his proposal "did not anticipate all of the concerns that my colleagues raised and, of course, there is always room for compromise." Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) repeated the telecom industry talking point that ISPs shouldn't face different rules than websites. "What we don't want to have is two different sets of rules where this set of companies, the Googles and Facebooks and Netflix, get to tell a different set of companies, the fiber, how they do their business," Lankford said. "Neither do we want the fiber companies telling the content companies how to run their business. Let them compete." Lankford also claimed that the broadband industry is awash in competition. "A lot of people say there [are] only a few Internet service providers that are out there," he said. "Well, in the United States, there are 4,500 Internet service providers that are out there." But except for satellite services with poor latency and a few large mobile providers, those broadband networks don't serve the whole country. Internet users generally have just one or two options for high-speed Internet service at their homes, as FCC data shows. Despite that reality, Lankford argued that the small ISPs will keep the big ones in check. " Yes, there are some big [ISPs], but there are a lot of small ones, and if the big ones misbehave, guess what happens: competition will beat them down and those small companies will beat them," Lankford said. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) argued that customers frustrated by network limitations won't be able to easily switch ISPs because there's so little competition. "Competition does not exist—this is not a matter of competition, this is a matter of preventing discrimination," he said.
Its unlikely the House will pass a similar vote. The Senate voted today on whether to reject the FCC decision to remove net neutrality protections -- and though it was unclear for some time whether the Democrats would gain enough Republican support to pass the measure, they did. Along with the 49 Senate Democrats, three Republican Senators -- Susan Collins (ME), John Kennedy (LA) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) -- voted to repeal the changes put into place by the FCC in December, resulting in a 52-47 tally. The new regulations are currently scheduled to go into effect June 11th. However, while this battle may have been won by those in support of net neutrality, there's still a long, hard road ahead, and the Senate measure isn't likely to survive. Going forward, a similar vote will have to pass in the House of Representatives. And though BattleForTheNet.com says the measure is currently backed by 161 Representatives, that's far from the 218 needed for it to pass. It's unlikely Democrats will be able to rally the kind of support they need in the House -- but even if they did, Donald Trump would still have to approve the measure. If such a resolution did make it through the House and ended up in front of the president, he's expected to overturn it with a veto. So while today feels like a win for net neutrality, it's probably the end of the road for this particular challenge to the FCC decision. "It's disappointing that Senate Democrats forced this resolution through by a narrow margin," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement today. "But ultimately, I'm confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the internet will fail. " There are some other ongoing attempts to override the decision. A number of states including Montana, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Hawaii and Oregon have implemented new rules requiring ISPs that provide service to state agencies to uphold net neutrality -- that means no blocking, throttling or paid prioritization. If providers do partake in those practices, they risk losing their government contracts. Dozens of states are also considering legislation that would reinstate net neutrality protections to some degree; in March, Washington passed a law protecting net neutrality in the state. " A person engaged in the provision of broadband internet access service in Washington state... may not: Block lawful content, applications, services or nonharmful devices, subject to network management; impair or degrade lawful internet traffic; engage in paid prioritization," said the bill. However, the FCC's decision says that states can't override its ruling, so it's unclear how long Washington's legislation will last before being challenged in court. USTelecom, a lobbying group that represents companies like AT&T and Verizon, said earlier this year that it would "aggressively challenge state or municipal attempts" to skirt the FCC decision. However, while many agree that banning state agencies from using ISPs that don't uphold net neutrality is a move that could withstand legal challenges, there's disagreement whether Washington's law and others like it would survive. Some have argued that the FCC doesn't actually have the authority to preempt state laws in this case. Also joining the fight are 22 states' and Washington DC's attorneys general who have filed a lawsuit challenging the FCC order calling it "arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act." Eleven other entities, including tech companies, rights groups and county governments, also filed lawsuits against the FCC, all of which were combined with that of the attorneys general in March. On the other side, three trade groups that represent nearly all major ISPs in the US signed on to back the FCC in the case. There are also two bills in both the Senate and the House that are masquerading as net neutrality protections, but neither do much more than what the FCC's ruling put into place. Much of the FCC's changes would remain -- including Title I classification and paid prioritization -- though the bills would ban blocking and throttling. Neither are expected to gain much traction. Whether the House measure does or doesn't pass, the attempt alone will likely become a major talking point for Congressional Democrats as we gear up for midterm elections -- those who continued to support net neutrality are sure to point that out as election battles heat up. And lines are already being drawn in the sand. " Soon, the American people will know which side their member of Congress is on -- fighting for big corporations and ISPs or defending small business owners, entrepreneurs, middle-class families and everyday consumers," Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement last month. Net neutrality has a long, difficult road ahead and it certainly faces an uphill battle in the House. But some remain optimistic that enough public support could urge leaders to vote in its favor. Representative Mike Doyle, a co-sponsor of the House effort, said last month, "I think grassroots pressure on Congress to support this bill will continue to grow until the public gets what it wants -- an end to special interest efforts to kill net neutrality. " If you're interested in letting your representatives know how you feel about net neutrality, you can see which leaders are currently in support of or against Congressional efforts to overturn the FCC decision here. The website will also connect you to those representatives' Twitter accounts and offices. GBlakeley via Getty Images (Capitol Building), Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images (protesters) and Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call (Chuck Schumer)