The Senate is voting on a resolution Wednesday to nullify the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rollback, which is scheduled to take place next month. At least one Republican – Sen. Susan Collins – has said she will join Democrats who want to overturn the FCC’s controversial decision.
Two other Republicans — Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — also seemed to be siding with the Democrats, voting along with Collins to begin debate on the measure, in a 52-47 decision that came shortly after 12:30 p.m. ET.
A final vote could come around 3 p.m. ET, Democrats say.
The outcome is unlikely to derail the FCC’s repeal of Obama-era rules that restrict Internet service providers’ ability to slow down or speed up users’ access to specific websites and apps. The pending rule is also being challenged in federal court.
“Today is a monumental day,” said Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., during debate on the bill. “Today we show the American people who sides with them, and who sides with the powerful special interests and corporate donors who are thriving under this administration.”
In response, Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that by rolling back net neutrality, the FCC was returning the Internet to the lighter regulations that helped it grow.
“There’s a better way to proceed,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. “It’s called bipartisan legislation.”
While the Senate’s resolution (formal name S.J. Res. 52) is likely to succeed, the measure would need House approval and President Trump’s signature before it could actually dismantle the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality.
The FCC rule, the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, is slated to take effect on June 11.
Along with Collins, Senate Democrats can bring 50 votes in support of preserving net neutrality. That means Republicans can count on only 49 votes because of the absence of Sen. John McCain (who has not cast a vote since early December due to health concerns).
Today’s vote is being held with an eye toward the midterm elections. As NPR’s Alina Selyukh reports, “Democrats are putting a stake in the ground as the party that supports net neutrality. They’re hoping this gets people voting on Election Day.”
The Senate resolution was filed by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., seeking to protect the Obama administration’s Open Internet Order of 2015, which officially established net neutrality. The FCC voted to overturn that rule last December.
The House version of the Congressional Review Act resolution that disapproves of the FCC rule was introduced by Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., in February. It’s now languishing in the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.
Critics of the FCC rollback say they’re worried about consumers being forced to pay more for less consistent or slower service. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, part of the Republican majority, has said the Obama rule was “heavy-handed” and isn’t needed.
Earlier this year, a coalition of 23 attorneys general sued to block the rollback of net neutrality. Others have also filed suit, from the nonprofit Mozilla to the Free Press advocacy group. And in March, Washington state enacted its own net neutrality protections, in anticipation of the federal rule being revoked.
Outside of Washington, the fight to preserve net neutrality has proven to be bipartisan: The states that have sued to overturn the FCC order range from blue states like New York and Massachusetts to red states such as Mississippi and Kentucky.
President Trump and Republicans in Congress have used the Congressional Review Act to throw out Obama administration rules in more than a dozen cases since Trump was sworn in last year.