The Senate has voted to reinstate net neutrality protections, with three Republicans joining an effort to override a controversial Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision.
A broader consumer backlash greeted the FCC’s decision earlier this year to repeal the Obama-era rules, which required internet service providers to treat all traffic equally. While supportive commissioners said doing away with cumbersome regulations would encourage innovation, critics warned the decision would undermine an open internet.
In the months since, Democratic elected officials have pushed to invoke a law allowing Congress to reverse regulators, seizing on an issue that energises their constituents. They have gotten an assist from prominent technology firms who oppose the change.
Three Republicans – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine – joined the Democratic minority in voting to turn back the FCC’s decision.
Democratic leadership hailed the vote, with both Senate leader Chuck Schumer of New York and top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California joining a press conference to trumpet a result they sought to play to their political advantage.
“Our colleagues in the United States Senate were given a choice today: they could vote to protect special interests and the biggest corporations or they could vote to protect middle class families, average consumers, entrepreneurs and anyone who relies on the free and open internet”, Mr Schumer said, accusing most Senate Republicans of “voting on behalf of the special interests”.
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An FCC commissioner who fought to preserve net neutrality, Jessica Rosenworcel, lauded the vote as a “big step to fix the serious mess the FCC made”, saying the commissioners who voted in favour were “on the wrong side of the American people”.
“I’ll keep raising a ruckus to support net neutrality and I hope others will”, Ms Rosenworcel said in a statement.
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But backers of the repeal are still likely to prevail in the end. The reinstatement effort would need to succeed in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives – an uphill battle – and then win the approval of Donald Trump.
The White House has backed the FCC’s decision. The repeal effort was championed by FCC chair Ajit Pai, who was elevated to his role by Mr Trump.