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.
The Senate today voted 52-47 to disapprove the FCCs recent order replacing 2015s net neutrality rules, a pleasant surprise for internet advocates and consumers throughout the country. Although the disapproval will almost certainly not lead to the new rules being undone, it is a powerful statement of solidarity with a constituency activated against this deeply unpopular order. To be clear, the FCCs Restoring Internet Freedom is still set to take effect in June. BREAKING: The Senate just voted to restore #NetNeutrality! We won. To all of those who kept fighting and didnt get discouraged: you did this. You raised your voices and we heard you. Thank you. Now the fight continues. On to the House! Senate Joint Resolution 52 officially disapproves the rule under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to undo recently created rules by federal agencies. It will have to pass in the House as well and then be signed by the president for the old rules to be restored (that or a two-thirds majority, which is equally unlikely). On the other hand, forcing everyone in Congress to officially weigh in will potentially make this an issue in the upcoming midterms. Do you support net neutrality? Every candidate in America is going to be asked that question, said Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) at a press conference after the vote. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) related that a Republican colleague of his told him that their office had received more than 6,000 calls from people expressing support for net neutrality and the FCCs original rules, and 10 opposed. People who use the internet all the time realize what this is about. Millions of calls, we dont get that on every issue. People intuitively get this, said Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) at the press conference. Commission Impossible: How and why the FCC created net neutralityUntil yesterday Senate Democrats, who brought the resolution, had 50 supporters, including one Republican, more than enough to force the issue to be voted on, but not enough to actually pass. Two more Republicans, Alaskas Lisa Murowski and Louisianas John Kennedy joined Maines Susan Collins (the first to cross the aisle) to vote aye on the measure, making the final tally 52-47. (The missing vote belongs to Sen. McCain, who is absent while fighting cancer.) We salute them for their courage, said Senate minority leader Nancy Pelosi at the press conference. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel commended the Senates action. Today the United States Senate took a big step to fix the serious mess the FCC made when it rolled back net neutrality late last year, she said in a statement. Todays vote is a sign that the fight for internet freedom is far from over. Ill keep raising a ruckus to support net neutrality and I hope others will too. Chairman Ajit Pai, however, was less congratulatory in his own statement. Its disappointing that Senate Democrats forced this resolution through by a narrow margin, he said, But ultimately, Im confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet will fail. Both he and Commissioner Carr cited a three-Pinnochio fact-check of Democratic claims regarding net neutrality thats a good guide to avoiding the hysteria occasionally encountered in this debate but provides precious little support for Restoring Internet Freedom, which is itself plagued by technical misunderstandings. The FCCs case against net neutrality rests on a deliberate misrepresentation of how the internet worksRepresentative Mike Doyle, who has been working on the corresponding effort in the House, said he is taking the next step tomorrow morning. With the Majority Leadership in the House opposed to this bill, the only way to bring it before the full House for a vote is through a discharge petition. Under the rules of the House, a bill must be brought to the House Floor for a vote if a majority of Representatives sign a discharge petition demanding it. Im filing a discharge petition to force a vote on the legislation to save Net Neutrality, and we just need to get a majority of Representatives to sign it. Im sure that every Member of the House will want to know where their constituents stand on this issue. As everyone notes above, the fight continues. Be sure to contact your member of Congress.