Senate Democrats Begin Push to Save Net Neutrality

Democrats in the United States Senate have begun their formal effort to bring to the Senate floor a vote on restoring net neutrality protections.

“I believe that today kicks off the most important day for the internet that the Senate has ever seen,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who is the leader of the net neutrality push in the Senate.

Markey and other Democrats say that net neutrality is about fairness, arguing that Republican Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan will hurt consumers and protect large corporations.

“Our Republican friends say ‘let the free market prevail, but we don’t do that for highways,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Senate Democrats have made the argument that if net neutrality rules are scrapped consumers will have to pay the bill by paying more for access the internet.

“Under the Trump administration, everything is for sale — our public lands, our privacy, even our access to the internet,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.

In December of 2017 the FCC voted to repeal the net neutrality rules on the grounds that they harm innovation. Pai said that the Obama-era rules were gross overreach of government authority and an interference in the free market.  She also downplayed the negative impacts of repealing the rules.

“There will still be cops on the beat guarding a free and open internet,” Pai said. “This is the way things were prior to 2015, and this is the way they will be once again.”

The FCC vote in December sparked a political backlash and a movement that Democrats believe will help them in the upcoming midterm elections.

“This bill does one simple thing: It gets every member of the Senate on the record for or against net neutrality,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “Republicans are going to regret it from a public policy standpoint and a political standpoint,” he said. “I cannot think of an issue that polls so decisively on one side.”

Republicans have attacked the Democrats’ effort to save the rules, calling it “political theater.”

“Unfortunately, manufactured controversy often gets more attention in Washington than real solutions,” Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune(R-S.D.) wrote in a CNBC op-ed that was published on Wednesday.

Democrats have rejected GOP offers to negotiate a compromise, saying there is no option presented by Republicans that will enforce the net neutrality rules in a way that is strong enough to adequately protect consumers.

Democrats will now officially push to force a vote on net neutrality under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Senate procedures allow Schumer to bring a CRA to the floor without Republicans.

Democrats appear to have the votes to succeed, since every senator that caucuses with Democrats backs the resolution, as does Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), which gives Democrats 50 votes in favor. If Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) misses the vote because of illness, the resolution could pass 50-49.

The resolution is not likely to pass in the House of Representatives, however, even though most internet and technology companies favor net neutrality. Senate Democrats will move ahead with their effort anyway, hoping a positive vote will give them an issue in this year’s elections that will help them retake control of Congress.