Those who want the internet to remain free and open breathed a huge sigh of relief this week when the U.S. Senate voted to preserve net neutrality.
Lawmakers have received about 16 million emails and more than a million phone calls from people opposed to plans by Capitol Hill's GOP majority to repeal neutrality rules. Large protests have taken place on city streets and online.
“Politicians see the light when they feel the heat!” Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota declared after the 52-47 Senate vote. “This victory was the result of the energy activists across the country brought. Let's keep it up and bring it home!”
Only three Republicans (Maine's Susan Collins, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, and Louisiana's John Kennedy) joined their 49 Democratic colleagues in rejecting a net-neutrality repeal, which telecom companies are seeking as a way to increase their profits. The GOP-dominated Federal Communications Commission endorsed the change. Craig Aaron, president of Free Press Action, called the Senate vote “a historic win for supporters of net neutrality, and a stinging rebuke to the army of phone and cable-company lobbyists and lackeys trying to take away our internet freedom.” He added: “The Senate has taken a giant step toward unwinding the least-popular policy decision in the history of the FCC.”
Evan Greer, deputy director of the pro-neutrality organization Fight for the Future, acknowledged that “the fight ahead is not going to be easy.” He explained: “In the House, we'll need 218 lawmakers to sign on to a 'discharge petition' in order to force a vote past leadership to the floor. That means we'll need to convince all the Democrats, and about 25 Republicans, to support the (bill). And the clock is ticking. If the resolution doesn't get a vote this year, it dies when the new Congress comes into session.”
At last report, 161 members of the House had signed the petition. Neutrality advocates are urging ordinary Americans to add their names to the document. Lawmakers need to “hear the strong voice of the American people demanding an open internet and saying 'No!' to the telecom and cable monopolies,” said Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner and a Common Cause adviser.
Many political observers believe the open internet is doomed due to the large GOP majority in the House, and President Trump's stated support for repeal. Neutrality, which prevents internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon from speeding up or slowing down access to certain websites, is scheduled to end June 11.
Murkowski said she was “frustrated” by her fellow Republican lawmakers who are choosing to support telecom firms rather than internet users. “I voted to hopefully get beyond the politics on this,” the moderate senator told reporters. “I'm frustrated where we are today. We've basically moved forward a measure that isn't going to become law because this president isn't going to sign it. And so we send yet another political message. When are we going to get down to the actual legislation that both sides profess we need to have?”
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, argued on the Senate floor that “at stake is the future of the internet.” He praised the web's “fundamental equality of access,” adding: “Net neutrality protected everyone ... that era, the era of an open internet, will unfortunately soon come to an end. The Democratic position is very simple. Let's treat the internet like the public good that it is.”
Later, at a press conference, Schumer remarked that “the American people have spoken” and that their elected representatives should listen. “The repeal of net neutrality is not only a blow to the average consumer, but it is a blow to public schools, rural Americans, communities of color and small businesses,” he said. “A vote against this resolution will be a vote to protect large corporations and special interests, leaving the American public to pay the price.”
The issue could boost Democrats' chances at the polls in this fall's mid-term congressional elections. The loss of net neutrality may spark a large turnout of voters who are adversely affected by the repeal. Democrats are hoping to gain control of the House, and possibly the Senate.
“If our Republican friends don’t wise up and join us, Democrats will be making net neutrality a major issue in the 2018 elections, and we will win,” Schumer vowed before the Senate vote. “When a young couple is streaming their favorite Netflix show, but it keeps lagging, who is to blame? The American people will know that Republicans are to blame, while Democrats fought it.”
A recent national poll indicated that 72 percent of Americans want net neutrality laws to stay in place, rather than allowing providers to prioritize some websites over others.