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Senate vote to save net neutrality set for Wednesday

Democrats are forcing Republicans in the Senate to vote whether they'll preserve the Obama-era rules.


If the bill passes the Senate, there is still an uphill battle ahead for net neutrality.

Marguerite Reardon / CNET

Democrats in the Senate are making their last-ditch effort to save net neutrality. 

A vote on a bill to turn back the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality has now been scheduled for Wednesday. 

Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts who is leading the fight in the Senate, filed a so-called discharge petition on the bill last week, which started the clock on this legislative effort to preserve the Obama-era rules.

Democrats are using the Congressional Review Act to try to halt the FCC's December repeal of net neutrality. The law gives Congress 60 legislative days to undo a regulation from a federal agency. Simple majorities are needed in both the House and Senate, as well as the president's signature, to roll back the FCC's vote.

The net neutrality rules, which passed a Democrat-led FCC in 2015, prevent broadband and wireless companies from blocking or slowing internet traffic. The rules have become highly politicized, with Democrats in Congress and many internet companies, such as Google and Facebook, strongly voicing their support. A majority of the public also supports net neutrality.

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"The internet should be kept free and open like our highways, accessible and affordable to every American, regardless of ability to pay" Chuck Schumer, the New York senator and Democratic minority leader, said in a statement. "The repeal of net neutrality is not only a blow to the average consumer, but it is a blow to public schools, rural Americans, communities of color and small businesses. A vote against this resolution will be a vote to protect large corporations and special interests, leaving the American public to pay the price."  

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers and broadband lobbyists argue the existing rules hurt investment and will stifle innovation. They say efforts by Democrats to stop the FCC's repeal of the rules do nothing to protect consumers. 

All 49 Democrats in the Senate support the effort to undo the FCC's vote. One Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, also supports the measure. One more Republican is needed to cross party lines to pass it. With Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, away from the Senate while he battles brain cancer, the math could be in the Democrats' favor.  

But even if the resolution were to pass the Senate, it will have an uphill battle in the 435-member House of Representatives, where currently only 160 Democrats have pledged support for a similar House resolution led by Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania. What's more, it's unlikely President Trump would sign the resolution repealing the rules.

The FCC has scheduled the rules to officially come off the books June 11.

Regardless of how the Senate effort plays out, net neutrality supporters say they will continue to fight. Several tech companies, like Vimeo, Mozilla, Kickstarter, Foursquare and Etsy, as well as 22 state attorneys general, have already filed lawsuits to preserve net neutrality protections.

There are also more than two dozen states, including California and New York, considering legislation to reinstate the rules within their borders. Earlier this year, Washington became the first state to sign such legislation into law. Governors in several other states, including New Jersey and Montana, have signed executive orders requiring ISPs that do business with the state to adhere to net neutrality principles.

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