On Wednesday, Senate Democrats, joined by three of their Republican colleagues, pushed through a measure intended to restore Obama-era rules on net neutrality. While the effort seems doomed to eventual failure, liberals in the House have already taken up the effort and started collaborating on a discharge petition.
“With majority leadership in the House opposed to this bill, the only way to bring it before the full House for a vote is through a discharge petition,” said Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), who’s filing the petition. “I’m sure that every member of the House will want to know where their constituents stand on this issue.”
The resolution, writes The Verge, would roll back Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s recent ‘Internet order’ using the Congressional Review Act.
Passage from the House, notes The Verge and New York Times, requires long odds. Nearly two dozen Republican representatives would have to abandon the party line to send the repeal to President Trump and the Oval Office.
And even if conservatives were to buck the dictate of the FCC, the commander-in-chief is unlikely to support any endeavor spearheaded by Democrats. Republican leaders have themselves stipulated that net neutrality, if reenacted, should be codified by the legislature rather than bounced back into a mess of bureaucratic rules and federal agencies.
Bringing back net neutrality in its old form may be a tough-sell, but The Verge and some analysts believe the rule’s ‘broad popularity’ could force congressmen and the president to switch sides.
“There is nowhere to hide, and there are no excuses,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) after the Senate vote. “You are either for a free and open Internet or you are not.”
Ajit Pai and several broadband lobbyists responded to Wednesday’s vote with cynicism, decrying Democrats’ efforts as impediments to the free market and online commerce. USTelecom, which represents AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, said the passed measure “throws into reverse our shared goal of maintaining an open, thriving Internet.”
“Consumers want permanent, comprehensive online protections, not half measures or election-year posturing from our representatives in Congress,” said the group.
Broadband and telecommunications lobbyists like UST have, in the past, tried to frame the return to net neutrality as an inherently poor idea. Like Republicans, they’ve argued that consumers need legislative fixes rather than Federal Communications Commission controls.
Meanwhile, companies like Comcast and Verizon have already begun gearing up to reap the rewards of repealed net neutrality. Comcast, notably, deleted the ‘net neutrality pledge’ from its website the same day the FCC announced the rule’s revocation.
Pai, for his part, said no net neutrality rules “will help promote digital opportunity” and “make high-speed Internet access available to every single American.” He’s “confident that [Democrats’] effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet will fail” to leave the House.
Pai’s oddball explanation did little to explain how corporate restrictions on the Internet and Internet usage would help promote digital opportunity. Without net neutrality, telecommunications providers like Comcast would have the ability to throttle connection speeds to certain websites and create paid “fast lanes” to access others.
One way or another, House Democrats will be fighting an uphill battle – both against the Republican majority and the chamber’s speaker, Paul Ryan, who supported the FCC’s repeal.
“I encourage my colleagues in the House to listen to the American people – force a vote on Doyle’s resolution, and send it to the president’s desk,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ).