The FCC’s long and winding journey towards repealing Obama-era net neutrality rules hit a roadblock on Wednesday, with Senate Democrats gaining critical Republican votes on a resolution against the agency’s decision.
It was a tight vote. All 49 Democratic Senators voted in favor of blocking the FCC’s plan, along with John Kennedy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The Resolution of Disapproval temporarily stops the FCC’s decision — spearheaded by Chairman Ajit Pai, President Trump’s appointee — to undo 2015’s “Open Internet” ruling, baring internet companies from throttling or blocking access to certain sites.
Under the FCC’s proposed changes, companies like Verizon — which owns Yahoo — would be allowed to slow down or block access to Google, as long as it discloses its decision. Opponents of Pai’s decision argue this gives too much power to a select few ISPs and hurts consumers, who could see price hikes; those in favor say the Federal Trade Commission, which the FCC will cede power to, will be able to tackle companies that act anti-competitively. Pai has also argued the 2015 rules have stymied internet investment.
“We don’t let water companies or phone companies discriminate against customers, we don’t restrict access to freeways deciding you can use them and you can’t,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) on Wednesday. “Are you on the side of large internet companies, or are you on the side of American families? That’s what this debate is about.”
The FCC’s proposed changes, dubbed the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, were set to go into effect on June 11.
“It’s disappointing that Senate Democrats forced this resolution through by a narrow margin. But ultimately, I’m confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet will fail,” said Chairman Pai in a statement. “The Internet was free and open before 2015, when the prior FCC buckled to political pressure from the White House and imposed utility-style regulation on the Internet. And it will continue to be free and open once the Restoring Internet Freedom Order takes effect on June 11.”
The battle to stop the FCC’s rollback isn’t over yet, though. The resolution now heads to the House of Representatives, where Democrats will need 25 Republicans to cross party lines. If that happens, President Trump could veto the decision.