A Democratic bill to reverse the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules now has enough Senate support to guarantee a vote. In a press
release, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced that she had become the 30th cosponsor to the measure which would return the nation to the Obama-era internet rules.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), would subject the FCC decision to a vote of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act. Under the CRA, Congress has 60 legislative days to disapprove of new regulations by a simple majority vote. If Congress does not vote to disapprove, the regulations go into effect, but if Congress strikes down the new rules the FCC would be barred from reissuing a rule that is substantially the same. The president can veto a CRA disapproval vote by Congress.
With Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House, the legislation seems doomed to failure, but the Democrat goal seems to be to force Republicans into an unpopular vote in a tough election year. Since the FCC vote in early December, Democrats and liberal activists have warned that the new rules will mean the end of the internet. Amid the hysteria, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has received threats that forced him to cancel an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“Republicans are faced with a choice,” said Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in a press release, “be on the right side of history and stand with the American people who support a free and open internet, or hold hands with the special interests who want to control the internet for their own profit.”
“Every member of the U.S. Senate will have to go on the record, during a tight election year, and either vote to save the Internet or
rubber stamp its death warrant,” said Evan Greer, an internet activist quoted in The Hill.
It was Congress’ failure to address internet regulation that provided an opening for the FCC to introduce net neutrality rules as far back as 2005 and then more onerous rules under President Obama in 2015. When the legislative branch failed to enact a law establishing a national policy on internet regulation, the rules became subject to the whims of successive administrations.
While few Republicans are likely to sign up to support the Democrat bill to reestablish the Obama-era internet rules, some might be
persuaded to join a compromise bill that would enact permanent internet regulations. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced a competing net neutrality bill last month, the Open Internet Preservation Act. Blackburn’s bill would prohibit throttling and blocking traffic, but would also ban the FCC from regulating the internet as a utility.
At this point, it is uncertain whether either bill can garner enough support to become law. What is certain is that as long as Congress fails to make internet policy, consumers and companies will be forced to endure regulatory swings from the left to the right and back again.