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Democrats introduce resolution to stop net neutrality repeal

The clock is ticking. Democrats in Congress have only a couple of months to save the 2015 net neutrality rules.

Sarah Tew/CNET
Democratic Sen. Ed Markey speaks at a news conference on net neutrality at the US Capitol.

Democratic Sen. Ed Markey speaks at a news conference on net neutrality at the US Capitol.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Tuesday, congressional Democrats delivered on their promise to introduce a resolution to roll back the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules.

Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, led the charge in the Senate to introduce a bill that uses a legislative tool known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to nullify the FCC's December vote to rescind the rules. The net neutrality regulations ensure broadband companies can't block or slow down access to websites or charge companies a fee to access customers online.

The CRA gives Congress 60 legislative days in which to roll back the FCC's decision. The countdown for the roll-back effort began last week when the FCC published its order in the Federal Register to repeal the rules.

"Whose side are you on?" Markey asked a group of net neutrality supporters standing outside the Capitol. "Do you stand with the big-money corporate interests and their army of lobbyists?"

The rules, passed in 2015 under then-President Barack Obama, have become highly politicized and are strongly supported by Democrats in Congress and by many online companies, such as Google and Facebook. Supporters say rules are necessary to ensure the internet remains free and open. Republican lawmakers and big broadband companies, like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, oppose the rules, saying they're too restrictive and hurt investment in the networks.

All 50 Democrats in the Senate support the effort to roll back the FCC's repeal. One Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, also supports the measure. Supporters say they need one more Republican to support the bill in order to send it to the House of Representatives.

Democrats rally support

The introduction of the resolution coincides with a "net neutrality day of action" organized by grassroots groups like Fight for the Future. The goal of Tuesday's demonstrations is to put pressure on Republicans to cross party lines and support the roll-back bill, according to Evan Greer, an organizer with Fight for the Future.

"The CRA is a simple up or down vote on the future of the free and open Internet," Greer said. "There are 50 US senators who have a decision to make: Are they going to listen to lobbyists who are paid to lie to them, or are they going to listen to their constituents and small businesses in their district?"

Even if the bill passes the Senate, it still faces an uphill battle in the House, where it would take far more Republicans to pass it. And then it will have yet another hurdle. It must also get the signature of President Donald Trump, who appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a critic of net neutrality regulations.

Democratic lawmakers gathered outside the Capitol on Tuesday didn't discuss their chances, but they vowed they wouldn't give up. 

"We will keep fighting until real net neutrality is the law of land," said Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon.

Internet companies support net neutrality

Several Internet companies, like Reddit, Etsy, Tumblr and Medium, have signed on to Tuesday's rally, as have advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Common Cause. As they did last summer on a similar day of action, these companies are encouraging their users to contact their lawmakers, and on their sites they're offering information on how to do that.

They argue that the rules are vital to ensuring new businesses and services thrive.

"If net neutrality is rolled back in April, millions of microbusinesses will be pushed to the Internet slow lane, stifling their ability to compete with big business," said Althea Erickson, head of advocacy and impact for Etsy. "That is why Etsy and our sellers will continue to make the case for clear, simple, bright-line net neutrality protections in the courts and in Congress."

Supporters will also be working offline and going to district offices of Republican senators whom they see as most likely to switch sides to their cause. These senators include John Kennedy of Louisiana, Dean Heller of Nevada, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rob Portman of Ohio.

The opposition has its voice too

Groups that represent broadband companies voiced their opposition to the CRA legislation put forth by the Democrats. Instead of the CRA bill, they said, lawmakers should be working together to draft bipartisan legislation to protect the internet.

"Today's shortsighted efforts by some to substitute the drafting of smart, bipartisan net neutrality legislation with the blunt instrument of the CRA is neither pro-consumer nor pro-innovation," said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of the trade group USTelecom.

On Monday, the conservative group FreedomWorks launched its own day of action, where it targeted Republican lawmakers who may be on the fence with regard to net neutrality.

"Almost half a million actions were taken by conservative grassroots activists who believe in a free and open internet," FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon said Monday. "They have made their voices heard, and I don't think Sen. Susan Collins or the other senators will be able to ignore them."

With or without the the CRA resolution, lawsuits have already been filed challenging the FCC's repeal. Several states, such as New Jersey, Montana and New York, are making their own net neutrality policies. Governors in these states have signed executive orders requiring service providers that do business with the state to adhere to the principles of net neutrality. That means broadband providers wouldn't be allowed to throttle traffic or create internet "fast lanes." 

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