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On Wednesday, the US Senate voted in favor of reinstating the Federal Communications Commission’s rules ensuring net neutrality, which are currently on track to be repealed on June 11. The vote was a major victory for advocates of keeping the internet free and open, and was made possible when three Republican Senators crossed the aisle to side with Democrats, resulting in a 52 to 47 vote.
“My hope is that as the public gets more and more involved in the course of this year that we will be able to get more Republicans to support it, especially in the House of Representatives,” Massachusetts Senator Edward J. Markey, who was at the forefront of efforts to have the measure passed, told Business Insider. “I think it’s an education process.”
The measure now needs to clear the House of Representatives, where it has less support, and then be signed by President Trump — whose appointee to chair the FCC, Ajit Pai, has led the campaign to scrap the Obama-era protections.
“It’s disappointing that Senate Democrats forced this resolution through by a narrow margin,” Pai said in a statement after Wednesday’s vote. “But ultimately, I’m confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the internet will fail.” Pai — who last year made an astoundingly smug and misleading video advocating for deregulating the internet — was confirmed as FCC chairman with just 52 votes in the Senate last October. Then, in December 2017, Pai and the Republican-controlled Commission voted 3 to 2 in favor of the repeal, which is due to take effect next month. A recent poll found that 86% of Americans oppose the FCC’s plan to repeal net neutrality laws, including 82% of Republican voters polled.
“The Senate victory is huge and proves what we’ve known all along: Net Neutrality isn’t a partisan issue. This is every person and business who uses the internet against the handful of companies who control access to it,” Candace Clement, a campaign director at the Free Press Action Fund, told Hyperallergic. “The pressure is only going to increase on members of Congress now that this fight moves to the House. Yes, it’s a steep climb, but the political elite tell us over and over again that we can’t win this fight and we keep proving them wrong. Everyone said it would be impossible to get the Net Neutrality rules passed in the first place at the FCC a few years back, but we did it and it happened because millions of people mobilized.”
According to a Tech Crunch report, a Congressional Review Act (the legislative tool used to force the vote in the Senate) has already been introduced to the House by Representative Mike Doyle (D-Pennsylvania), though it could take time to accrue the signatures needed to bring the net neutrality measure to a vote. In the meantime, groups like the Free Press Action Fund and Fight for the Future are continuing their campaigns to inform and mobilize the public. In order for the measure to achieve a majority (218 votes, currently) and be approved by the House, two dozen Republican Representatives would need to vote with Democrats on the issue.
“Everyone has a story to tell about why the open internet matters,” Clement said. “Are you an artist who sells your work online? That makes you a small business owner. Tell your member of Congress what the open internet has enabled you to do. Are you a journalist who works to tell the stories that are often ignored by the mainstream media? You can do this because of Net Neutrality. Make it clear to your representative that you are paying attention during this election year and let them know how you expect them to vote on this issue.”
If the FCC is successful in repealing 2015’s Open Internet Order, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Time Warner could slow down or even block access to certain sites while charging a premium for faster access to others. The repeal would empower ISPs to charge both ordinary consumers and business owners to ensure faster access to content, thereby potentially affecting where users stream content, make online purchases, or even get their news.
“This is something that will impact everyone (unless you happen to be a cable or phone company), but it will be most felt by marginalized communities, poor people, people of color, LGBTQ folks, and others who have relied on the internet to get around gatekeepers and achieve economic success, access social services, find employment, tell their own stories, and shine light on injustice and the impacts of systemic racism on their communities,” Clement said. “Artists, musicians, and other creative makers have also experienced great success using the internet to reach audiences and organize. If your cable or phone company has the ability to block your access to someone or charge you more money to reach your audience, many artists will lose the economic opportunities, visibility, and inspiration the internet has created for them.”