U.S. Senate Votes to Keep Net Neutrality, but an Uphill Battle Remains

The lower chamber of Congress and the White House aren't friendly to the idea of net neutrality.

by / May 16, 2018
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The U.S. Senate narrowly voted to prevent the end of net neutrality Wednesday, though the resolution it passed has a tough path to adoption ahead of it.

The body passed Senate Joint Resolution 52 mostly along party lines, 52-47. All Democrats and Independents voted for it, and all but three Republicans voted against it. The partisan makeup of the House of Representatives is more Republican than the Senate, and the White House has signaled no change of position on net neutrality.

The resolution is meant to negate the Federal Communications Commission’s December vote to end its policy of net neutrality, which prevents Internet service providers from taking certain actions to favor some pieces of content while making it more difficult to access others.

The three Republicans in favor of the resolution were Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

The issue has sparked some activism among government IT leaders — particularly at the city level — who are often tasked with expanding and improving Internet access to constituents. Meanwhile, multiple states have looked for workarounds that would keep some or all of the principles in place, or have even sued the federal government. Those proponents have warned that allowing ISPs the power to influence accessibility could mean, among other things, higher rates for users.

“Unlike [FCC Chairman Ajit Pai], I’ve led teams creating innovative new tech on the Internet. Everyone who’s done so knows that killing net neutrality is bad for society — not just because it harms tech innovation, but because it compromises our civil rights,” wrote Anil Dash, who served as a technology adviser in the Obama administration, in a tweet before the FCC’s vote.

Opponents of net neutrality describe the policy as overly restrictive, and regularly point out that the Internet “grew up” without such rules in place.

“In 2015, President Obama’s FCC set out to fix what wasn’t broken. It imposed regulations designed for Depression-era telephones on new technologies that fit in our pockets. So much for the light-touch approach that helped the early internet grow,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a statement before the vote. “Last year, under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC sought to rectify this mistake and restore the rules that helped the Internet flourish, while still protecting consumers from abuses. The resolution Democrats are putting forward today would undo that progress. It would reimpose heavy-handed, Depression-era rules on the most vibrant, fast-growing sectors of our economy.”

Mark Farrell, mayor of San Francisco, took to Twitter before the vote to urge people to call their congressional representatives and ask them to support the resolution.

Members of the Sunlight Foundation, Electronic Freedom Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations also tweeted in support of net neutrality following the vote, and urged the House of Representatives to follow suit.

Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts who introduced the resolution, did the same.