Senate votes to reinstate Net Neutrality

The United States Senate voted Wednesday to reinstate 2015 net neutrality laws governing the Internet.

In December, the Republican-headed Federal Communications Commission ended net neutrality on a 3-2 party-line vote. Congressional Democrats subsequently moved to force a floor vote in hopes of blocking the repeal under the Congressional Review Act. Today, a vote was held in the U.S. Senate and 49 Democrats were joined by three Republicans —  Susan Collins, of Maine; John Kennedy, of Louisiana; and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska — in favor of net neutrality.

The vote will now go before the House of Representatives. As Republicans have greater control in the House, however, a CRA floor vote will be more difficult, as The Verge notes. Under House rules, a full majority of House members must sign on to a CRA before it is considered, which means Democrats will need to recruit 22 Republicans while also maintaining solidarity within their own ranks. And even if they’re successful in the House, Democrats would still need a signature from Donald Trump, who has voiced his opposition to net neutrality in the past.

In December, Trump-appointed FCC chairman, Aji Pai, led a charge to end Obama-era net neutrality laws. In voting to repeal net neutrality, Pai was joined by Republican FCC commissioners Michael O’Reilly and Brendan Carr. Democratic commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn voted in opposition.

Pai and fellow opponents of net neutrality say the current regulations, enacted in 2015, have led to “higher broadband prices, slower broadband speeds, less broadband deployment, less innovation, and fewer options for consumers.”

However, net neutrality advocacy groups say such a scenario would occur only after regulations are reversed, as internet service providers would be free to create a two-tier pay-to-play internet, where websites are charged extra fees for faster load speeds and other preferential treatments. ISPs could also slow down their competitors’ websites, block content they disagree with, and impose data limits on users.

In her dissenting opinion, FCC commissioner Rosenworcel proclaimed the decision a “misguided action,” arguing that “our broadband providers will get extraordinary new power from this agency. They will have the power to block websites, throttle services, and censor online content. They will have the right to discriminate and favor the internet traffic of those companies with whom they have pay-for-play arrangements and the right to consign all others to a slow and bumpy road.”

“Now our broadband providers will tell you they will never do these things. They say just trust us. But know this: they have the technical ability and business incentive to discriminate and manipulate your internet traffic. And now this agency gives them the legal green light to go ahead and do so,” Rosenworcel added.

Former Democratic FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said repealing net neutrality would be “tragic,” adding that “the job of the FCC is to represent the consumer. If you like your cable company, you’ll love what this does for the Internet, because it gives internet service providers the same kind of control over content and price as cable operators have today.”

The FCC held no public hearings in advance of its vote (Pai did find time, however, to appear in a “comedy” sketch alongside a Verizon executive). The FCC also ignored the millions of comments submitted to its website, many of which were fraudulent and came from Russian email addresses. Several state attorney generals asked the FCC to delay its vote until the fraudulent comments could be investigated, but Pai rejected their calls.

Beyond asking Congress to step in, advocacy groups have are also challenging the FCC in court, arguing that its decision “violates federal laws barring agencies from crafting ‘arbitrary and capricious’ regulations.”

Read Wren Graves’ recent essay on net neutrality and why its repeal is especially detrimental for low-income families. Also, read a pair of pieces detailing the repeal’s impact on independent musicians and independent record labels. Also, check out a great premier courtesy of Last Week Tonight:

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