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Senate Dems move to force net neutrality vote

Senate Democrats on Wednesday formally launched their push to bring a vote on restoring net neutrality protections to the Senate floor.

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“I believe that today kicks off the most important day for the internet that the Senate has ever seen,” said Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court FCC reaffirms order rolling back net neutrality regulations Markey rips GOP for support of Amy Coney Barrett: Originalism 'just a fancy word for discrimination' MORE (D-Mass.), who is spearheading the net neutrality push in the Senate.

Markey and other Democrats portrayed the issue as one of fairness, arguing that Republican Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to scrap net neutrality would hurt consumers while protecting large corporations.

“Our Republican friends say 'let the free market prevail,' ” said Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHouse Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Graham dismisses criticism from Fox Business's Lou Dobbs Lewandowski: Trump 'wants to see every Republican reelected regardless of ... if they break with the president' MORE (D-N.Y.) “We don’t do that for highways.”

He and others argued that if net neutrality rules were scrapped consumers would have to front the bill, paying higher premiums to access the internet.

“Under the Trump administration, everything is for sale — our public lands, our privacy, even our access to the internet,” said Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  MORE (Ill.), the No. 2-ranking Democrat in the Senate.

The FCC voted in December to repeal the Obama-era net neutrality rules on the grounds that they harm innovation. Pai blasted the Obama-era rules as a gross overreach and downplayed the impact of repealing them. 

"There will still be cops on the beat guarding a free and open internet," Pai said. "This is the way things were prior to 2015, and this is the way they will be once again."

The FCC's action sparked an uproar, creating a political issue that Senate Democrats made clear they intend to highlight in the midterm election campaign.

“This bill does one simple thing: It gets every member of the Senate on the record for or against net neutrality,” said Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Senate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Coordinated federal leadership is needed for recovery of US travel and tourism MORE (D-Hawaii), during a press conference unveiling the net neutrality resolution.

“Republicans are going to regret it from a public policy standpoint and a political standpoint,” he said. “I cannot think of an issue that polls so decisively on one side.”

Republicans swung back at the Democratic effort, calling it “political theater” that threatened to get in the way of a bipartisan net neutrality deal in Congress.

“Unfortunately, manufactured controversy often gets more attention in Washington than real solutions,” Senate Commerce Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneEnsuring more Americans have access to 5G technology Pence won't preside over Barrett's final confirmation vote Gaffes put spotlight on Meadows at tough time for Trump MORE (R-S.D.) wrote in a CNBC op-ed on Wednesday.

Thune has repeatedly called for Democrats to come to the negotiating table on net neutrality legislation. Democrats, including Schatz, have rejected that step, saying they haven’t seen an option presented by Republicans that would enforce net neutrality rules in a strong enough manner to protect consumers.

Democrats will now officially push to force a vote on net neutrality under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). If the resolution is passed by Congress and signed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven MORE — an unlikely outcome — it would reverse Pai’s repeal of net neutrality measures.

Congressional procedure allows Schumer to bring a CRA to the floor, even without Republican leadership on board, and Democrats appear to have the votes to succeed in the Senate.

Every senator that caucuses with Democrats is backing the resolution, as is Republican Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - One week out, where the Trump, Biden race stands The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Justice Barrett joins court; one week until Election Day House Judiciary Republicans mockingly tweet 'Happy Birthday' to Hillary Clinton after Barrett confirmation MORE (Maine). That gives Democrats 50 votes in favor.

If Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainObama book excerpt: 'Hard to deny my overconfidence' during early health care discussions Mark Kelly releases Spanish ad featuring Rep. Gallego More than 300 military family members endorse Biden MORE (R-Ariz.), who is battling brain cancer, misses the vote, the resolution could pass 50-49.

Even if it has the votes in the Senate, though, a net neutrality CRA is unlikely to pass in the House.

Some business groups expressed support for the Democratic effort to keep net neutrality regulations in place.

Reddit, Tinder, Tumblr and other major websites prominently displayed “Red Alert” for net neutrality banners on their websites urging users to call lawmakers and voice their support for the regulations.

“We support the Congressional Review Act resolution that would restore the rules codified by the 2015 Open Internet Order,” said Kevin Martin, vice president of U.S. public policy at Facebook. “We also stand ready to work with any policymakers on a framework that will protect the open internet.”

The Internet Association, a lobbying group for major technology companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook, launched its own advocacy effort, urging constituents to email their representatives.

The tech industry has waged a long campaign to preserve net neutrality rules, primarily driven by smaller, internet startups. During different phases of the net neutrality battle, companies such as Reddit and others have devoted portions of their site to pro-net neutrality messaging.

“The Internet is lighting up in protest once again because this Senate vote will impact the future of the Web for years to come,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, an advocacy group that has organized pro-net neutrality demonstrations.

“Net neutrality is not a partisan issue outside of Washington, D.C. Now we need to get D.C. to catch up with the rest of the country,” she added.

Updated at 3:54 p.m.