Democrats Close to Forcing Vote on Net Neutrality

WASHINGTON (CN) – Senate Democrats appear to be just a single vote shy of forcing a showdown Wednesday on the Federal Communication Commission’s controversial repeal of net neutrality regulations.

All 49 Democrats in the chamber have thrown their support behind a measure that would force a vote on something known as a Congressional Review Act resolution.

For opponents of the FCC’s repeal of the Obama-era Open Internet Order, the resolution is the lynchpin to reversing last year’s controversial decision by the commission.

According to Senate rules, if enough votes are cast in favor of a Congressional Review Act resolution, it can bypass committee review and be forced to a vote on the Senate floor.

That is precisely what Democratic senators are counting on Wednesday since their resolution would kill the FCC repeal and potentially end future attempts to repeal the order.

Net neutrality is premised on the idea that the Internet should be treated as if it were a public utility. Under the Obama Administration order, internet service providers can’t throttle online speed, access or content or demand premium fees for different levels of access.

Only one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, has joined Democrats and in the absence of Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., the Republican majority is stuck at 50 votes meaning the resolution could fall in the Democrats favor, 50-49.

Evan Greer, deputy director at Fight for the Future, a nonprofit that has advocated for an open internet since 2011, told Courthouse News this week that the prospect of achieving the simple majority in the House is “doable.”

“But it’s an uphill battle,” Greer said.

“Fifteen House Republicans voted against the CRA to gut broadband privacy rules last year and a handful of others like Reps. Mike Coffman of Colorado, Don Young of Arkansas, Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, Dave Reichert of Washington, John Curtis of Utah  have already publicly criticized the FCC repeal,” she said.

Even if the resolution clears Congress and makes it to President Donald Trump’s desk, there’s a still a chance he could veto it.

But it’s not a given, Greer said.

“Getting this to Trump’s desk would be a massive victory for the net neutrality movement,” she said. “It would show that there is a clear mandate for strong, enforceable net neutrality protections. Even if Trump vetoes it, it will set a tone for any future congressional fights to come and beat back attempts by ISPs to push watered down legislation that undermines net neutrality while claiming to save it.”

Public opinion in favor of the 2015 order has been overwhelmingly bipartisan. A University of Maryland poll from December indicated that 83 percent of those surveyed favored keeping the old rules in place. Of that group, 75 percent were Republicans, 89 percent were Democrats and 86 percent were independent.

IMGE, a GOP consulting firm in Alexandria, Virginia turned up similar results in a study conducted last year. According to their findings, 75 percent of Trump voters support the Obama-era policy.

Trump has been largely mum on net neutrality, only calling it by name in a single tweet from 2014 when he compared it to a “fairness doctrine.”

“They don’t want their cable company dictating where they get their news from,” Greer said of the figure.

If the resolution crumbles in Congress, courtrooms will be the new battlefront for net neutrality advocates.

New York and California have already picked up momentum with state legislators signing enforcement orders or advancing new bills that uphold the 2015 standard or create a shield for consumers from ISPs who may want to take advantage of the repeal’s “light touch regulation.”

The descriptor is frequently used by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai who championed the repeal.

In response to letters submitted by dozens of senators to the chairman asking him to reconsider the repeal, Pai has responded with pro-forma explanations given at commission meetings before, during and after the party-line vote which overturned the 2015 order.

“By returning to light touch framework, we are helping consumers and promoting competition… Americans will still be able to access the websites they want to visit. They will still be able to enjoy the services they want to enjoy,” Pai wrote in April.

Evan Greer told Courthouse News the battle for net neutrality is about more than  competition or “how fast videos load.”

“It’s a fight for the future of our basic right to free expression and our basic right to access information about the world around us. It’s a fight for the future of democracy,” she said.

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