Senate Just One Vote Shy of Blocking Net Neutrality Repeal

Free and open Internet is not dead yet – and Senator Chuck Schumer is trying to make sure it stays alive

Keeping Net Neutrality is widely popular with the public – and the Democrats are hoping to block the repeal. Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Net neutrality is not dead yet. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced he had the support of all 49 Democrat senators and one Republican, leaving him just one vote shy of the number needed to reverse the Federal Communications Commission's widely unpopular decision to allow Internet providers to block or slow down websites at their discretion.

"With full caucus support, it’s clear that Democrats are committed to fighting to keep the Internet from becoming the Wild West, where ISPs are free to offer premium service to only the wealthiest customers while average consumers are left with far inferior options," Schumer said Tuesday. Susan Collins (R-ME) joined all Democratic senators in supporting legislation to block the change.

In December, the FCC voted 3 to 2 – a party-line vote – to repeal rules put in place by the Obama administration in 2015 ensuring ISPs treat all Internet content the same. The move meant that an ISP like Comcast, which owns NBC, would be free to speed up NBC streams and slow down or block streams from competitors like CBS or Netflix.

The repeal was supported by telecom companies, which stand to profit from the change, but broadly opposed by the general public. In 2017, when the FCC began soliciting feedback on the proposed change, it was overwhelmed with responses, though most of them were fake. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, of 21.7 million comments submitted, only 6 percent were unique. The remaining 94 percent were duplicates, submitted "in some cases, hundreds of thousands of times," often at the exact same moment.

Before the legislation can pass the Senate, Democrats will need to attract the support of at least one more Republican. That's far from the last hurdle, though – the measure would have to pass a Republican-controlled House before it lands on President Trump’s desk. It will require his signature before becoming law.

If Democratic senators fail to find the single voted needed to override the decision, there are other efforts underway to reverse the FCC decision from going into effect. On Tuesday, California joined 21 other states – New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia – suing to block implementation of the new rules.