(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 The FCC in December repealed rules set under Democratic President Barack Obama that barred internet service providers from blocking or slowing access to content or charging consumers more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.
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.