Tanner Walker and Hannah Maerowitz
Science and Tech Editor and Staff Writer
The Senate voted 52-47 to undo an act of internet deregulation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and restore Obama-era policies of net neutrality last Wednesday. The resolution targets a decision that the FCC made in December that erased legislation preventing internet service providers from speeding up broadband speeds or downloads in exchange for extra fees, or blocking content if users don’t pay extra fees.
Three Republicans joined the unanimous Democrats and Independents to vote against the new laws repealing net neutrality. The new laws would have gone into effect on June 11, 2018 if the vote didn’t pass.
Proponents of net neutrality, which include consumer activist groups and tech companies, like Airbnb and Etsy, view the vote as a victory for an open internet. However, the effects of the vote may be short-lived and nullified in the near future. Two significant hurdles stand in the way of Wednesday’s vote having any lasting impact.
First, the House of Representatives must vote to overturn the FCC’s ruling using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) in the same way as the Senate did. Senators can force a vote using the CRA after obtaining 30 signatures, but a full majority of members must sign the petition to impel a vote in the House of Representatives.
Even if Democrats in the House were unanimous in their support, they would need signatures from 22 Republicans in order to achieve majority. This may prove impossible on an issue that is split strongly along partisan lines.
If House Democrats collect enough signatures to affirm the Senate’s recent vote, that decision must still be approved by President Trump. Although Trump’s decisions can be unexpected and sometimes deviate from the traditional Republican ideology, he has made deregulation a major part of his platform.
Trump’s administration has also made statements in favor of dismantling net neutrality completely, stating that Obama’s reclassification of broadband providers as common carriers “picks winners and losers” and strunts competition.
However, Democrats remain hopeful that the Senate’s vote will have a lasting impact.
In an interview with The New York Times, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said the Democratic position “is very simple: Let’s treat the internet like the public good that it is … This is our chance, our best chance, to make sure the internet stays accessible and affordable for all Americans.”
On the other hand, Republicans see the Senate’s move as futile and an attempt to generate voter interest for upcoming elections.
“It’s clear Democrats are using this as an issue to get votes,” said Sen. John Thune in an interview with CNET. “This isn’t about serious legislating. It’s about political theater.” Thune serves as chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
According to The New York Times, Republicans have proposed their own set of net neutrality laws. These laws would preserve some of the previous legislation but “would not categorize broadband providers as common-carrier providers that need to follow utility-style rules, which many Democrats consider essential.”
While the congressional battle over net neutrality may eventually stall and fizzle out, it is only one of many battles that is currently being fought. Several states, such as California, New York, and Washington, have enacted their own versions of net neutrality rules. Twelve lawsuits filed by more than 30 companies have been compiled into one suit that a federal appeals court will hear in California on an undetermined date.