WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) speaks during a news conference on a petition to force a vote on net neutrality on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Also pictured are Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Senate votes to throw out new net neutrality regs

Three Republican Senators voted with Democrats and Independents to pump the breaks on net neutrality changes.

However, the victory, sweet as it is, likely won’t stop the Federal Communications Commission from continuing on the march toward rolling back protections put in place during the Obama administration.

After all, the Republicans control the House of Representatives and there’s very little chance the Democrats could get the same support to force the issue there.

The final tally in the Senate Wednesday was 52-47, with Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined the Democrats to vote in support of rolling back the changes voted into place by the FCC, led by Chairman Ajit Pai.

In the unlikely case that this works, it would make Pai’s changes dead in the water. That means internet service providers would not have the opportunity, for example, to establish bundles of service in which customers pay more for some streaming services – Spotify, Netflix, YouTube, etc – in order for access to those websites without being slowed down.

Such a win would be a huge victory for advocacy groups, online activists and tech behemoths like Google, Facebook, Twitter, PayPal and others that have been working to protect the regulations put in place in 2015.

It was just a week ago that the FCC said it would begin rolling back Obama-era regulations on June 11.

“The Senate vote, on the eve of midterms, could have significant political effects,” Marc Martin, a telecom lawyer with Perkins Coie in Washington, told the Washington Post. But it might not move the needle for that many voters.

Senate Democrats used the Congressional Review Act in order to call the vote. The CRA “permits Congress to revisit — and reject — decisions by administrative agencies within a certain window of their approval,” the paper explains.

To no one’s surprise, Pai is not pleased.

“It’s disappointing that Senate Democrats forced this resolution through by a narrow margin,” the chairman said. “But ultimately, I’m confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet will fail.”

He goes on to reiterate some of his state from last week, saying that the internet was “free and open before 2015… (and) it will continue to be free and open once the Restoring Internet Freedom Order takes effect on June 11.”

Pai says the Democrats and the three Republicans who voted with them used “scare tactics” in their opposition to his regulations and that his “light touch approach will deliver better, faster and cheaper internet access and more broadband competition to the American people – something that millions of consumers desperately want and something that should be a top priority.”

The FCC is not unified in its support of Pai’s regulations, by the way.

In a statement released Wednesday, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the vote was “a big step to fix the serious mess the FCC made when it rolled back net neutrality late last year. 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. This put the FCC on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of the American people.”

She vows to keep up the fight.

So does the Future of Music Coalition, a longtime net neutrality supporter.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is urging its supporters to pick up their phones to call and email their representatives to double down on their support of the regulations as established by the Obama administration. The vote in the Senate “puts a bare majority… in step with the 86% of Americans who oppose the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality protections… We pay our ISPs plenty of money for internet access, they shouldn’t have the ability to block or throttle any application or website we choose to use or visit. And they shouldn’t get to charge extra to deliver some content faster while slowing down others or get to prioritize their own content over that of competitors.”

So what happens now?

The House has to use the same CRA to vote in favor of overturning the current FCC’s changes, Jacob Kastrenakes of The Verge explains. Democrats would need to get a full majority of the 435-member House, which means every single Democrat and 22 Republicans. If that somehow happens, and the vote goes in their favor, it would need the signature of the president. He’s very unlikely to go along.

It might buy some time. It might also provide a little bit of room for court cases to proceed. The final nail hasn’t been secured in the 2015 net neutrality regs just yet, but this vote doesn’t really supply all that much oxygen either.

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

Amber Healy has 522 posts and counting. See all posts by Amber Healy

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