(Reuters) — The U.S. Senate voted 52 to 47 on Wednesday to reverse the Federal Communications Commission decision in December to repeal landmark 2015 net neutrality rules, but it still faces an uphill battle. The margin was larger than expected with three Republicans voting with 47 Democrats and two independents to reverse the Trump administration action. Many politicians are convinced the issue will help motivate younger people to vote in the 2018 congressional elections and numerous polls show overwhelming public support. It is not clear if the U.S. House of Representatives will vote at all on the measure, while the White House has said it opposed repealing the December FCC order. Lets treat the internet like the public good that it is. We dont let water companies or phone companies discriminate against customers; we dont restrict access to interstate highways, saying you can ride on the highway, and you cant, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said. We shouldnt do that with the internet either. The FCC in December repealed rules set under Democratic President Barack Obama that barred internet service providers from blocking or slowing access to content or charging consumers more for certain content. The 2015 rules were intended to ensure a free and open internet, give consumers equal access to Web content and bar broadband service providers from favoring their own material or others. The new rules require internet providers to tell consumers whether they will block or slow content or offer paid fast lanes. Republicans say they back open internet principles and want Democrats to negotiate to enshrine net neutrality rules in law. Senator John Thune, who chairs the Commerce Committee, said the fact of the matter is nothing is going to change after the new rules take effect — and will not prod people to vote. I dont know how that animates people to vote if their Netflix is working, he told Reuters. The vote was a rare win for Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate and a rebuke to regulators that approved a sweeping repeal of the Obama rules. Last week, the FCC said the net neutrality rules would expire on June 11 and that the new regulations approved in December, handing providers broad new power over how consumers can access the internet, would take effect. The revised rules were a win for internet service providers, whose practices faced significant government oversight and FCC investigations under the 2015 order. But the new rules are opposed by internet firms like Facebook and Alphabet. Comcast, Verizon Communications and AT&T have pledged to not block or discriminate against legal content after the net neutrality rules expire. A group of 22 states have sued the FCC over the repeal. AT&T said Wednesday it backs an open internet and actual bipartisan legislation that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protections for all internet users. The FCC decided in 2015 to reclassify internet service providers as common carriers under a 1996 law. But unlike how utilities are treated, the FCC decided not to impose rate regulations or require broadband providers to file notice of pricing plans.
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.