Senate Democrats Move Forward With Resolution To Restore Net Neutrality

Senate Democrats moved forward with an initiative aimed at restoring to restore the Obama-era net neutrality rules.

On Wednesday, Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and others filed a motion to reinstate the rules. The effort, spearheaded by Markey, has garnered support from all 49 Senate Democrats as well as Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. If Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) -- currently on a medical leave of absence -- doesn't vote, the measure is poised to pass the Senate by one vote.

But passage is considered unlikely, given that only 160 House members have so far said they support the bill -- leaving it far short of the 218 votes needed to pass.

The latest effort to enshrine net neutrality protections comes five months after the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal Obama-era regulations that classified broadband as a utility service and imposed some common carrier rules on providers. Among other restrictions, the regulations prohibited broadband carriers from blocking or throttling online traffic and from charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said the prior regulations were "heavy handed." But net neutrality advocates counter that the rules are necessary to prevent broadband providers from engaging in censorship, and from discriminating against competitors.

Markey has proposed using the Congressional Review Act to overturn the agency's repeal. That law, which dates to 1996, allows federal lawmakers to vacate recent agency decisions.

Vimeo, Tumblr, and other prominent web companies that support net neutrality are expected to place "red alert" banners on their sites, in an effort to rally support for Markey's measure. One banner, which was present on Etsy's site Wednesday morning, states: "Join us in the fight to save net neutrality." Clicking through takes people to a site that allows them to send emails to their senators.

Internet service providers oppose the effort to restore the Obama-era rules. The industry group USTelecom said Wednesday that Markey's motion "will not protect the open and vibrant internet we all want and consumers expect."

The group added that it wants Congress to craft "modern" net neutrality rules.

The FCC's repeal also faces a court challenge by 23 attorneys general, consumer groups and other tech companies, including Mozilla and Vimeo.

In addition, at least eight states have so far taken steps to restore net neutrality rules on a local level. Governors of six states -- Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Montana, Hawaii and Vermont -- have signed orders requiring state agencies to contract only with providers that follow net neutrality principles. The state of Oregon recently passed a law that similarly prohibits state agencies from contracting with broadband providers that violate net neutrality principles. Washington state passed a more comprehensive net neutrality law that prohibits broadband providers operating in the state from blocking or throttling traffic and from charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery.

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