Senate in party-line vote rejects measure to overturn FCC net-neutrality rules

The Senate rejected a bid to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's controversial net neutrality rules on Thursday in a party-line vote.

The measure passed the House in April, but failed in the Senate on a vote of 52 to 46. It needed 51 votes to pass and was not subject to a filibuster. The White House threatened earlier this week to veto the measure if it cleared the Senate, which came as no surprise since President Obama made net neutrality part of his campaign platform.

The rules approved by the Commission in December would prevent Internet service providers from discriminating between two similar websites or content providers.

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“Without net neutrality, Americans’ access to the Internet would hinge not on our right to free speech but on the whims of the corporations that would control it," said ACLU legislative counsel  Christopher Calabrese.

Republicans argued the FCC overstepped its legal authority in passing what they labeled a "job-killing" regulation.

“While we all understand the importance of an open Internet, I think we can also agree that the growth of the Internet in the last 15 years is an American success story that occurred absent any heavy-handed regulation by the federal regulators in Washington,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“[W]e should think long and hard before we allow unelected bureaucrats to tinker with it now.”

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Supporters contend the FCC took a light-touch approach that will ensure the Internet remains a level playing field. Some proponents called for the same rules to apply to wireless broadband, which is currently exempted, though wireless carriers are banned from blocking lawful websites or applications that compete with their services.

"Despite the cloak of anti-government rhetoric of the legislation's opponents, the reality is that a defeat of the resolution would have given control over to Big Telecom companies for their benefit on an Internet manipulated for their benefit," said Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn.

An FCC spokesman hailed the vote as "a win for consumers and businesses," adding that the FCC's "open Internet framework" has brought certainty and predictability across the broadband economy.

"Any effort to disrupt or unsettle that certainty, which has been widely supported by industry, will only undermine innovation and investment in this space," the FCC spokesman said.
 
The rules are scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 20 but face several lawsuits, including one filed by Verizon, that argue that the FCC exceeded its authority in adopting the regulations. A federal court threw out the FCC's previous attempt at enforcing net neutrality against Comcast last year.

If a court should rule against the Commission again chairman Julius Genachowski has left open the option to re-classify broadband as a telecom service under Title II of the Communications Act, which would increase the agency's ability to regulate it.

Updated at 1:40 p.m.