- The US Senate is voting Wednesday on whether to put the FCC’s net neutrality rules back in place.
- The Senate resolution would overturn a vote by the agency in December to scuttle its open-internet regulations.
- The resolution has drawn the support of half of all senators, but it needs a majority to pass.
- Even if it passes, the resolution faces a dubious future, because it needs to be passed by the House of Representatives and signed by President Trump.
The US Senate on Wednesday is slated to vote on whether to reinstate the Federal Communications Commission’s net-neutrality rules.
Although the vote has been expected for months now, its outcome is uncertain. The number of senators who have declared their support for the measure that would restore the rules is 50 — one shy of the majority needed to pass it.
The Senate will vote on a resolution authored under the Congressional Review Act. That law allows Congress, on a simple majority vote of both houses, to overturn new regulations by federal agencies within 60 legislative days of their being put in place. The resolution will seek to overturn a rule voted in by the FCC in December that eliminated most of its net neutrality regulations.
Net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the internet should basically be treated the same. While the name for the principle isn’t that old, the basic idea predates the internet and has its roots in the telephone and telegraph networks and even older services.
For nearly all of the last 10 years, the FCC has had in place rules that sought to guarantee net-neutrality protections. The lastest version of the agency’s rules, which it put in place in 2015, barred internet service providers from blocking, slowing, or giving preferential treatment to particular online sites or services.
The FCC’s new anti-net neutrality regulation, which is set to take effect next month, eliminates those prohibitions. Instead, it simply requires providers to disclose how they handle internet traffic. It also hands off to the Federal Trade Commission the job of making sure the providers abide by the terms they’ve disclosed and to watch out for anti-competitive behavior on their part.
That the agency overturned its rules was no surprise. Ajit Pai, its new, President Trump-appointed chairman, made clear that he opposed the net-neutrality rules and would seek to eliminate them when he took over the FCC’s head. However, he did so despite widespread support for the rules; a survey taken around the time of the FCC’s December vote showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans supported keeping them in place, including a large majority of Republican voters.
Even if the Senate passes the resolution, it’s unlikely to be enacted. Thus far, its drawn far less than majority support in the House of Representatives. And President Trump is unlikely to sign a resolution that would effectively rebuke his chosen FCC chairman.
However, net-neutrality supporters are also seeking to overturn the FCC’s action in federal courts. And they’ve been pushing measures in the states that would offer net-neutrality protections within their borders.
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