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.

{mosads}“I believe that today kicks off the most important day for the internet that the Senate has ever seen,” said Sen. Ed Markey (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 Schumer (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 Durbin (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 Schatz (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 Thune (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 Trump — 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 Collins (Maine). That gives Democrats 50 votes in favor.

If Sen. John McCain (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.

Tags Brian Schatz Charles Schumer Dick Durbin Donald Trump Ed Markey John McCain John Thune Susan Collins

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