The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved a resolution that, if it were to become law, would require internet service providers to treat internet content the same.
The measure would undo a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission made last year that overturned Obama-era regulations preventing internet companies from slowing down or speeding up, or blocking all together, certain internet content. The issue is known as “net neutrality.”
The vote in favor of restoring the old rules was 52-47. The effort was led by Democrats, who managed to get a few Republicans to join them to pass the measure. It’s widely expected backers don’t have the votes, however, to get the proposal through the House. But Democrats think they’ve found an issue they can use to win votes in November – the repeal of the previous rules has drawn vocal criticism. The rules are set to expire June 11.
“It’s disappointing that Senate Democrats forced this resolution through by a narrow margin,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was a supporter of repealing the rules. “But ultimately, I’m confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet will fail.
“The Internet was free and open before 2015, when the prior FCC buckled to political pressure from the White House and imposed utility-style regulation on the Internet,” Pai said. “And it will continue to be free and open once the Restoring Internet Freedom Order takes effect on June 11.”
The net neutrality rules that the FCC repealed had said that internet service providers couldn’t give some internet content preference in terms of how fast it is delivered to consumers. For example, under the now repealed rules, internet companies couldn’t make a deal with a streaming company, for example, that would deliver that streaming company’s video or music faster than competitors’ content.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted against the repeal in December, praised the Senate vote.
“The FCC’s net neutrality repeal gave broadband providers extraordinary new powers to block websites, throttle services and play favorites when it comes to online content,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “This put the FCC on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American people. Today’s vote is a sign that the fight for internet freedom is far from over. I’ll keep raising a ruckus to support net neutrality and I hope others will too.”
#BREAKING: Today is a win for small business owners, entrepreneurs, and consumers. 49 Democrats and 3 Republicans stood up and said that the internet economy is too important to let a few big cable companies slow down or block content. #NetNeutrality pic.twitter.com/of9EHLzzgy
— Sen. Maria Cantwell (@SenatorCantwell) May 16, 2018
The resolution to restore the rule was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts. Three GOP senators joined with Democrats in supporting the restoration of the rules, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) May 16, 2018
Democrats wanted Republicans on the record, whether they can actually overturn the FCC vote or not. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters after the vote that his party considers one of the top issues of the 2018 campaign.
Republicans said the vote was “a partisan charade,” in the words of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune.
“This vote was about politics, not protecting net neutrality,” Thune said. “Unfortunately, it’s only going to delay Senate Democrats from coming to the table and negotiating bipartisan net neutrality legislation.
“Today, I made a motion to put this resolution aside and take up a draft of net neutrality protection legislation, first floated in 2015, as a starting point for amendment and discussion,” Thune said. “I’m disappointed but not surprised that Democrats rejected my offer to write, consider, and amend legislation in a process open to ideas from both sides of the aisle.”
— Senator John Thune (@SenJohnThune) May 16, 2018