Senate Votes To Save Net Neutrality

The Senate voted on Wednesday to restore the FCC's rules on net neutrality, passing a bill which will probably die on the floor of the House, but may ignite a fierce debate among Democrats ahead of midterm elections.

Senate Democrats managed to force the Wednesday vote using a rare legislative tool called the "Congressional Review Act" (CRA) - which allows Congress, with a majority vote in each chamber along with the president's signature, to overturn recent policy changes. 

Democrats argue that without the FCC's net neutrality rules, companies such as Comcast and Verizon will have free reign to discriminate against certain content, or allow superior access to partner websites and services. Under the old rules, internet service providers (ISPs) are required to treat all internet traffic equally.

In order to pass through the House, the bill would need 25 Republicans to support the Democratic effort in order to even bring it up for a vote. 

Most Republicans have argued that the FCC's net neutrality rules are overkill and not required for broadband providers - urging Democrats to come to the table and negotiate a legislative solution to replace the FCC rules. The broadband industry is predictably very supportive of this effort. 

Supporters of net neutrality, however, flatly reject the notion that the GOP-controlled Congress can come up with solutions which protect content as well as the FCC rules. The proposed GOP legislation, for example, would allow internet service providers (ISPs) to create "fast lanes" which would charge websites to provide faster speeds to end users. 

Of course, as Recode pointed out last year, Obama's net neutrality rules were celebrated by websites and content providers who could be subjected to throttling by telecom and cable companies who own distribution networks.

Adopted in 2015 under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. government’s current approach to net neutrality subjects the likes of AT&T, Comcast, Charter and Verizon to utility-like regulation. That legal foundation prevents them from blocking or throttling web pages, while banning content-delivery deals known as paid prioritization. And it grants the FCC wide legal range to review virtually any online practice it deems harmful to consumers.

Such strong rules always have been popular in Silicon Valley, where startups in particular fear they could not compete without tough net neutrality safeguards. But they long have drawn sharp opposition from the telecom industry, which sued the FCC in 2015 in a bid to overturn them.

Before that case could come to its conclusion, however, Trump entered the White House, ushering in a new era of Republican control at the nation’s telecom agency. And Pai, a fervent opponent of utility-like regulation of net neutrality, set about undoing the Obama-era rules almost as soon as he took over the FCC. -Recode

In addition to the Senate bill, there is a separate battle in court to fight the FCC's repeal - however that is likely to drag on for months.