FEATURED:

Can net neutrality be a potent political issue for Democrats?

Democrats see an opportunity to capitalize on the massive backlash to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to repeal its net neutrality rules.

The repeal sparked a massive outcry from internet users, spurred on by celebrities and activists who believe the move will allow internet providers like Comcast and Verizon to control consumers’ internet experience.

The question is whether the outrage on Reddit forums can translate into votes for Democratic candidates next fall given the fact that younger people engaged on the issue are often the least reliable voters — particularly in midterm elections.

ADVERTISEMENT

Raffi Krikorian, the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) chief technology officer, said in an interview with The Hill that the massive outcry has been a subject of discussion among senior Democratic officials.

He said he didn’t need to convince DNC officials of the weight that net neutrality might hold with voters.

And Democratic operatives say that while it’s still early in the cycle, they see promise in how younger voters have been moved by the issue.

“Net Neutrality has the potential to motivate young and progressive voters to turn out, and we certainly welcome their support, as well as all privacy- and liberty-loving Americans who recognize that the Republican Party has abandoned these fundamental values,” Tyler Law, a spokesman for the Democrats’ House campaign wing said in a statement.

The FCC decision has sparked an effort among Democrats to enact legislation blocking the new FCC rules and leaving net neutrality in place. Republicans, who control both chambers, are countering with a bill that would partially reinstate the rules but allow internet service providers to charge websites for faster speeds and pre-empt the FCC and state authorities from passing stricter protections.

Neither bill is likely to become law, meaning the battle is probably going to move to the campaign season.

The FCC’s rules, meanwhile, will be challenged in court, a process that could lead to a lengthy judicial battle.

The telecom industry is backing the drive for legislation to replace the FCC’s rules, which broadband providers found too onerous. The industry believes it will be better off if it doesn’t have to deal with the FCC changing the regulations every time the White House switches parties. And their goal is shared by most Republicans, who opposed the net neutrality rules backed by former President Obama as too heavy-handed. They say the rules have hampered innovation and investment from telecom providers.

“Now, the table is set for Congress to provide clear, permanent rules through a bipartisan legislative solution,” Reps. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnDemocrats hold fading odds of winning Senate this November Cornyn: 'All the money in the world' won't help O'Rourke win Texas Gillibrand backs Manchin, Bredesen despite their support of Kavanaugh MORE (R-Tenn.) and Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenVulnerable Republicans throw ‘Hail Mary’ on pre-existing conditions GOP senator wants Apple, Amazon to give briefing on reported Super Micro hack Overnight Health Care: Bill banning 'gag clauses' on drugs heads to Trump's desk | Romney opposes Utah Medicaid expansion | GOP candidate under fire over ad on pre-existing conditions MORE (R-Ore.) said in a joint statement after the FCC’s vote last week. “We hope that all stakeholders, and our Democratic colleagues, will finally engage in serious negotiations soon.”

Some Democrats, including Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonElection Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach Midterms in 2018 become most expensive in history The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Pollsters: White college-educated women to decide if Dems capture House MORE (Fla.), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump makes new overtures to Democrats Gillibrand backs Manchin, Bredesen despite their support of Kavanaugh Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees MORE (W.Va.), are on board with the idea of negotiating a compromise on net neutrality with Republicans.

But many Democrats are pushing the nuclear option, which would restore the rules by using a legislative tool called the Congressional Review Act (CRA) that allows Congress, with a simple majority in both chambers and the president’s signature, to overturn regulatory moves.

A CRA bill introduced by Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOvernight Energy: Trump administration doubles down on climate skepticism | Suspended EPA health official hits back | Military bases could host coal, gas exports EPA chief calls racist Facebook post he liked ‘absolutely offensive’ Senate sends bill regulating airline seat sizes to Trump MORE (D-Mass.) already has at least 27 backers, including Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers Senate Dems race to save Menendez in deep-blue New Jersey MORE (D-N.Y.), who has promised to force a vote on the bill. On the House side, Rep. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleTwitter chief faces GOP anger over bias at hearing Live coverage: Social media execs face grilling on Capitol Hill House Dems press FCC chairman for answers on false cyberattack claim MORE (D-Pa.) plans to introduce a companion bill.

Those bills face an uphill battle, but Democrats and activists can use the votes to hold Republicans' feet to the fire — and then as a campaign issue.

The pro-net neutrality group Fight for the Future, which helped rally internet users ahead of the FCC’s vote, plans to track members’ votes with a legislative scorecard and target those who don’t try to save the rules.

Polls are bolstering Democratic hopes.

A recent poll out of the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation found that 83 percent of registered voters supported keeping the FCC’s rules in place. That number included 75 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of independents.

Steven Kull, a pollster who runs the university program, said that Republicans can usually count on support from their base for deregulatory moves, but that was negated by the popularity of the FCC rules.

“Basically, the public doesn't really buy the idea there's some gain for them in it,” Kull said in an interview with The Hill.

He believes that net neutrality could go hand in hand with the Democrats’ message that the GOP has been giving handouts to the wealthy and powerful — something the party is going all-in on with its messaging on the tax bill signed into law by President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE on Friday.

“I think this will all flow rather easily into the narrative about the role of special interests,” he said.

Krikorian believes the issue will resonate with wide swaths of voters, whether they live in metropolitan areas and use the internet constantly for work, or if they’re part of rural communities that have few, if any, choices when it comes telecom providers.

“I think you'll be hearing from Democrats in all of those different districts,” he said.