- A 30th senator – Claire McCaskill of Missouri – has signed on to sponsor a resolution that would nullify the Federal Communications Commission’s vote to repeal its net-neutrality rules.
- That’s significant because 30 senators are needed to force a floor vote on the resolution.
- The resolution doesn’t have any Republican sponsors, making congressional approval doubtful – but a floor vote could force Republican senators to publicly voice support for the FCC’s unpopular move.
The effort to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s recent repeal of its net-neutrality rules just crossed an important threshold.
Thirty senators have now signed on to sponsor a resolution that would nullify the repeal, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts announced Monday on Twitter.
That’s significant because it’s the number of senators needed to essentially force a vote on the FCC’s move.
In his tweet, Markey called reaching the 30-senator plateau “a big step toward restoring a free and open internet.”
Last month, the FCC voted along party lines to eliminate its net-neutrality rules. Those rules, adopted in 2015 to cap a decade of the agency’s efforts, barred broadband service providers from blocking, slowing, or providing preferred access to particular websites or services.
Without those rules, providers will be free to block customers from accessing rival services or slow down their access to Netflix, for example, as long as they tell customers what they’re doing – though the Federal Trade Commission is supposed to watch for severely anticompetitive moves.
Claire McCaskill of Missouri is the latest senator to sign on to the nullification effort, according to Free Press, a consumer-rights group that supports the net-neutrality rules. The sponsors of the resolution include 29 Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democratic Party.
The resolution was drafted under the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress the authority to overturn new regulations issued by federal agencies with a simple-majority vote in both houses. Previously a seldom-used, obscure law, the CRA was used multiple times last year to overturn regulations issued in the waning days of the Obama administration.
There are much bigger challenges ahead for overturning the FCC’s move
Though Democrats now have enough support to force the resolution to a vote in the Senate, they have much steeper barriers to getting it adopted.
The fact that no Republicans have signed onto the resolution means it’s likely to be defeated in a floor vote. And even if Congress approves the resolution, President Donald Trump would most likely stand with Ajit Pai – the FCC’s chairman whom he appointed and who led the effort to repeal the net-neutrality rules – and veto it.
Still, Free Press and others are pushing forward, noting the widespread popularity of the net-neutrality rules. A University of Maryland poll last month found that 83% of Americans and 75% of Republicans said they supported them.
By forcing a floor vote on the resolution to nullify the repeal, supporters of net neutrality could make Republican legislators go on record about their stance – something that could become a campaign issue in this fall’s midterm elections.
“Supporting net neutrality should be a no-brainer for members of Congress, whose constituents from across the political spectrum are united in their opposition to the Trump FCC’s attack on the open internet,” Matt Wood, Free Press’ Action Fund policy director, said in a statement.
He continued: “Regardless of party affiliation, all elected officials should stand with their constituents and restore the 2015 protections that protect free speech, choice, and innovation online.”
Amid the harsh criticism of the repeal from consumer groups including Free Press, Pai on Wednesday pulled out of a planned appearance at this week’s CES tech industry convention after reportedly receiving death threats. Pai’s move raised eyebrows, as the current or incoming FCC chair has spoken every year since 2009, and he most likely would have been put on the spot about the net-neutrality repeal.
Meanwhile, a separate effort to overturn the FCC’s net-neutrality repeal has been gaining momentum.
On Friday, the Internet Association, a trade group representing online companies including Facebook and Google, said it planned to sign onto an expected lawsuit seeking to block the repeal through the courts. In the days before the FCC’s vote last month, the online giants took few overt steps to voice opposition to repealing the rules.