The Senate today voted 52-47 to disapprove the FCC’s recent order replacing 2015’s net neutrality rules, a pleasant surprise for internet advocates and consumers throughout the country. Although the disapproval will almost certainly not lead to the new rules being undone, it is a powerful statement of solidarity with a constituency activated against this deeply unpopular order.
To be clear, the FCC’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” is still set to take effect in June.
Senate Joint Resolution 52 officially disapproves the rule under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to undo recently created rules by federal agencies. It will have to pass in the House as well and then be signed by the president for the old rules to be restored (that or a two-thirds majority, which is equally unlikely).
On the other hand, forcing everyone in Congress to officially weigh in will potentially make this an issue in the upcoming midterms.
“‘Do you support net neutrality?’ Every candidate in America is going to be asked that question,” said Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) at a press conference after the vote.
Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) related that a Republican colleague of his told him that their office had received more than 6,000 calls from people expressing support for net neutrality and the FCC’s original rules, and 10 opposed.
“People who use the internet all the time realize what this is about. Millions of calls, we don’t get that on every issue. People intuitively get this,” said Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) at the press conference.
Until yesterday Senate Democrats, who brought the resolution, had 50 supporters, including one Republican, more than enough to force the issue to be voted on, but not enough to actually pass.
Two more Republicans, Alaska’s Lisa Murowski and Louisiana’s John Kennedy joined Maine’s Susan Collins (the first to cross the aisle) to vote aye on the measure, making the final tally 52-47. (The missing vote belongs to Sen. McCain, who is absent while fighting cancer.)
“We salute them for their courage,” said Senate minority leader Nancy Pelosi at the press conference.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel commended the Senate’s action.
“Today the United States Senate took a big step to fix the serious mess the FCC made when it rolled back net neutrality late last year,” she said in a statement. “Today’s vote is a sign that the fight for internet freedom is far from over. I’ll keep raising a ruckus to support net neutrality and I hope others will too.”
Chairman Ajit Pai, however, was less congratulatory in his own statement.
“It’s disappointing that Senate Democrats forced this resolution through by a narrow margin,” he said, “But ultimately, I’m confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet will fail.”
Both he and Commissioner Carr cited a “three-Pinnochio” fact-check of Democratic claims regarding net neutrality that’s a good guide to avoiding the hysteria occasionally encountered in this debate but provides precious little support for Restoring Internet Freedom, which is itself plagued by technical misunderstandings.
Representative Mike Doyle, who has been working on the corresponding effort in the House, said he is taking the next step tomorrow morning.
With the Majority Leadership in the House opposed to this bill, the only way to bring it before the full House for a vote is through a discharge petition. Under the rules of the House, a bill must be brought to the House Floor for a vote if a majority of Representatives sign a discharge petition demanding it. I’m filing a discharge petition to force a vote on the legislation to save Net Neutrality, and we just need to get a majority of Representatives to sign it. I’m sure that every Member of the House will want to know where their constituents stand on this issue.
As everyone notes above, the fight continues. Be sure to contact your member of Congress.