As Deadline Nears, Lawmakers Move to Restore Net Neutrality Rules

Net Neutrality
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WASHINGTON – As the end of the Obama-era net neutrality rules nears – they’re set to officially end on June 11 – Senate Democrats, including Ed Markey and Chuck Schumer, filed a motion to reinstate the rules. 

The effort has garnered support from all 49 Senate Democrats as well as Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. If Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) – currently on a medical leave of absence – doesn’t vote, the measure is poised to pass the Senate by one vote.

Still, insiders say full passage remains unlikely because only 160 House members have pledged support for the bill – well short of the 218 votes needed to pass.

Markey has proposed using the Congressional Review Act to overturn the agency’s repeal. That law, which dates to 1996, allows federal lawmakers to vacate recent agency decisions.

Vimeo, Tumblr, Match.com, and other prominent web companies that support net neutrality are expected to place “red alert” banners on their sites to rally support for Markey’s measure. One banner, which was present on Etsy’s site last week, reads: “Join us in the fight to save net neutrality.” Clicking through takes people to a site that allows them to send emails to their senators.

Internet service providers oppose the effort to restore the Obama-era rules. The industry group US Telecom said Wednesday that Markey’s motion “will not protect the open and vibrant internet we all want and consumers expect.”

The group added that it wants Congress to craft “modern” net neutrality rules.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Ajit Pai called the regulations “heavy handed,” adding, “The internet wasn’t broken in 2015, when the prior FCC buckled to political pressure and imposed heavy-handed ... rules on the Internet economy. Now, on June 11, these unnecessary and harmful internet regulations will be repealed and the bipartisan, light-touch approach that served the online world well for nearly 20 years will be restored.”

But net neutrality advocates say the rules prevent broadband providers from engaging in censorship, and from discriminating against competitors. “We are forcing a vote on net neutrality because Americans deserve to know who is working for them in Washington and who is beholden to the whims of big corporations,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) tweeted.

The FCC’s repeal also faces court challenges by 23 attorneys general, consumer groups, and other tech companies, including Mozilla and Vimeo.

In addition, at least eight states have taken steps to restore net neutrality rules on a local level. Governors of six states – Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Montana, Hawaii, and Vermont – have signed orders requiring state agencies to contract only with providers that follow net neutrality principles.

Oregon recently passed a law that similarly prohibits state agencies from contracting with broadband providers that violate net neutrality principles. Washington state passed a more comprehensive net neutrality law that prohibits broadband providers operating in the state from blocking or throttling traffic and from charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery.