The US Senate just voted to restore net neutrality rules after the Trump administration ditched them

Rally organizers carry away props following a protest outside the Federal Communication Commission building against the end of net neutralityrules December 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • The US Senate voted 52-47 on Wednesday in favour of putting the Federal Communications Commission’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 had previously drawn the support of half of all senators, including all Democrats; two additional Republicans backed it in the official vote.
  • Despite the Senate’s vote, the resolution faces a dubious future, because it still needs to pass the House of Representatives and be signed by President Donald Trump.

The US Senate on Wednesday voted narrowly in favour of reinstating the Federal Communications Commission’s net-neutrality rules.

Though the vote on the measure has been expected for months, its outcome had been uncertain going into the vote. Fifty senators previously declared their support for it – one shy of the majority needed to pass it.

In the end, three Republicans joined with all 47 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning senators to back the measure. Forty-seven senators – all Republicans – voted against it. Sen. John McCain, who is ailing with a brain tumour, did not vote.

Earlier in the day, the measure overcame a procedural hurdle, portending its eventual outcome. The same three Republicans – Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – joined with their colleagues across the aisle to pass a motion to proceed with a final vote. Collins had previously said she supported the underlying measure.

Senate Democrats cheered the procedural vote. In a tweet, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota called it an “amazing victory for consumers, small businesses and rural communities.”

The Senate voted on the resolution under the Congressional Review Act, a law that allows Congress, with a simple-majority vote in both houses, to overturn new regulations by federal agencies within 60 legislative days of implementation.

The resolution seeks to overturn a rule voted on by the FCC in December that would eliminate most of its net-neutrality regulations.

Net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the internet should 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 past 10 years, the FCC has had in place rules that sought to guarantee net-neutrality protections. The latest version of the agency’s rules, from 2015, barred internet service providers from blocking, slowing, or giving preferential treatment to particular online sites or services.

The FCC in December reversed its longstanding policy on net neutrality

The FCC’s new anti-net-neutrality regulation, 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 ensuring providers abide by the terms they have disclosed and watching out for anticompetitive behaviour.

That the FCC overturned its net-neutrality rules was no surprise. Ajit Pai, the new chairman appointed by President Donald Trump, made clear that he opposed them and would seek to eliminate them when he took over as the FCC’s head.

But Pai did so despite widespread support for the rules; a survey taken around the time of the FCC’s December vote found that an overwhelming majority of Americans supported keeping them in place, including most Republican voters.

Despite the Senate’s passing of the resolution, the measure is unlikely to be enacted. It has drawn far less support in the House of Representatives, and Trump is unlikely to sign a resolution that would effectively rebuke his FCC chairman.

However, net-neutrality supporters are also seeking to overturn the FCC’s action in federal courts and pushing measures that would offer net-neutrality protections within a state’s borders.

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