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Internet

Democrats' net neutrality bill survives first vote

But there's still a long way to go before the Save the Internet Act could become law and reinstate Obama-era net neutrality protections.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

A bill backed by House Democrats to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality protections passed its first hurdle Tuesday.

Democrats pushed the Save the Internet Act through the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee in an 18-11 vote that fell along party lines. The legislation codifies rules that were repealed in December 2017 by the Republican-led FCC. As part of this repeal, the FCC abdicated its authority to protect consumers online to the Federal Trade Commission.

The bill introduced by Democrats is an attempt to end a nearly two-decade-old fight over how best to prevent broadband companies from abusing their power as gatekeepers to the internet. Specifically, it prevents broadband providers from blocking, slowing down or charging for faster access to the internet. But it also restores the FCC's authority as the "cop on the beat" when it comes to policing potential broadband abuses.

Republicans have criticized the legislation as giving the FCC too much authority to regulate ISPs.

Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey, who chairs the full committee, said in a statement that "without this legislation there is no backstop to make sure big corporations don't use their power to undermine and silence their small competitors or their political opposition.

"Failure to continue moving forward on this legislation is simply not an option," he said. "And I look forward to bringing it up for a vote before the full Committee soon."

Consumer advocacy groups like Public Knowledge also said it was important to restore net neutrality protections nationwide.

"We urge members of the House to support this bill and encourage every American to demand that their Representatives vote to approve it immediately," Phillip Berenbroick, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, said in a statement.

The broadband industry also reacted to the subcommittee vote. NCTA, which lobbies for the cable industry, urged the two parties to come together to develop a bipartisan bill.

"With today's action, the subcommittee has stubbornly insisted on a partisan path that leads to a dead end," the group said in a statement.

The bill will now get a vote before the full committee. Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, who chairs the subcommittee, has promised the bill would get a vote in April.

The bill is expected to pass the House, but it faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate. That said, Democrats were able to pass a Congressional Review Act resolution in the Senate last year that would've repealed the FCC's order to dismantle the 2015 rules. But it's unlikely any Republicans will defect again to pass the legislation.