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Network Neutrality

Senate Votes 52-47 To Advance Bill Restoring Obama-era Net Neutrality Rules

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Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., speaks during a press conference last week as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., looks on

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2018 — Senate Democrats on Wednesday joined forces with Republicans Susan Collins, John Kennedy, R-La. and Lisa Murkowski, R-Ak. to approve a bill which rolls back the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of network neutrality rules enacted under former President Obama, 52-47

The bill, S.J. Res. 52, is a so-called resolution of disapproval which uses procedures laid out under the Congressional Review Act to prevent the FCC’s repeal of regulations, commonly known as net neutrality rules, which prohibit broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon from interfering with users’ internet traffic or prioritizing some traffic over others. 

“Today the Senate took the most important vote on the internet in its history, and the American people won,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “It is a victory…for every family in America, it is a victory for our economy, and for our democracy.”

Markey thanked Collins, Kennedy and Murkowski for their votes, noting that the result “could not have happened without them.” He then added that the Senate vote “puts the House on notice,” giving House Republicans a choice between “standing with the American people, or with President Donald Trump and his “cronies”

Repeal of net neutrality rules, a priority of President Trump, still looms

The FCC’s repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality rules will take effect June 11 unless the House passes a companion bill and President Donald Trump signs the bill.
The repeal process began at the commission’s December open meeting and has been a priority for Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican and longtime opponent of strong net neutrality protections.

Pai’s push to roll back the Title II protections made him a key player in implementing Trump’s efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations, and put the FCC — traditionally the province of technology and telecommunications geeks and wonks — firmly in the public spotlight.

The Senate’s vote to roll back Pai’s is also a rare rebuke to Trump, who has made what his former strategist Steve Bannon called “deconstruction of the administrative state” a major priority.

Democrats had the 51 votes needed to pass Markey’s bill earlier today

Although most legislation requires 60 Senators to vote to end debate on a bill before it can receive an up-or-down majority vote, resolutions under the Congressional Review Act, which was passed by the Republican-led Congress in 1996 and signed by then-President Bill Clinton, cannot be filibustered, meaning only 51 votes were required for passage in the Senate.

While Republicans have a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, Collins’ support made today’s result all-but-assured because Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., remains at home undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

Kennedy and Murkowski were the only two Republicans to vote for the bill other than Collins, whose support was also crucial in allowing Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to force his Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring the Democrat-sponsored bill to the floor using a rarely-used parliamentary maneuver called a discharge petition.

Democrats still have work to do but the final outcome is still uncertain

Even with today’s result, House Democrats must still garner enough Republican signatures for a discharge petition of their own, though they have until the end of the 115th Congress’ second session to do so. If both chambers pass the bill, the joint resolution would still require the president’s assent — with or without his signature — for it to become law.

While President Donald Trump has signed 15 CRA resolutions since taking office, those have repealed regulations promulgated in the waning days of the previous administration. It is unclear whether Trump would allow a 16th to become law if doing so restored a regulation enacted under his predecessor.

When asked last week if President Trump would be amenable to such a resolution, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was noncommittal.

“We’ll keep you posted when we have a specific policy announcement on that front,” she said.

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Andrew Feinberg covers the White House, Capitol Hill, and anywhere else news happens for BeltwayBreakfast.com and BroadbandBreakfast.com. He has reported on policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007, and his writing has appeared in publications like The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Silicon Angle, and Washington Business Journal. He has also appeared on both daytime and prime radio and television news programs on NPR, Sirius-XM, CNN, MSNBC, ABC (Australia), Al Jazeera, NBC Digital, Voice of America, TV Rain (Russia) and CBS News. Andrew wishes he could say he lives in Washington, DC with his dog, but unfortunately, he lives in a no-dogs building in suburban Maryland.

Federal Communications Commission

Three Democratic Senators Came Not to Bury the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules, But to Praise Them

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Senator Edward Markey, D-Mass., speaks from the Senate floor in support of the Save the Internet Act on June 11, 2019 (screenshot / C-SPAN2)

WASHINGTON, June 12, 2019 – A trio of Democratic senators on Tuesday called for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on legislation to roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of network neutrality regulations put in place during the Obama administration.

Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., each took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to demand that McConnell, R-Ky., bring the Save the Internet Act to the floor for a vote. The Markey-authored legislation would turn back the regulatory clock to June 11, 2018, just as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s repeal of the Obama-era Open Internet regulations was taking effect.

“I rise today in defense of net neutrality. In April, the House of Representatives took an important step in passing the Save the Internet Act legislation that would…restore net neutrality protections,” said Markey, who has been a strong proponent of rules to prevent broadband providers from blocking or throttling customers’ internet traffic since his days representing Massachusetts in the House of Representatives.

Markey noted that the Senate passed a so-called “resolution of disapproval” last year to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the FCC’s repeal of the Obama-era rules, but added that he was offering up the Save the Internet Act because the CRA is no longer an option.

“Unfortunately, our Republican colleague are failing to listen to the voices of their constituents and plan to block the vote from happening,” he said.

“Let’s be clear. Net Neutrality is just another way in which the Republican Party refuses to side with the ordinary people in our country.”

Wyden echoes the high stakes involving in politicizing net neutrality

Wyden, who has frequently collaborated with Markey on network neutrality legislation, rose when his colleague had finished to echo the Massachusetts senator’s call for action and explain the stakes.

“Net neutrality — the free and open internet — says that once you have access to the internet, you get to go where you want, when you want and how you want,” Wyden said before noting that both he and Markey have been pushing for strong network neutrality protections for more than ten years.

Responding to critics of his bill who’ve said that the current FCC rules have not resulted in the far-reaching consequences predicted by network neutrality proponents, Wyden explained that the changes he and others fear are often slow in coming.

“Here’s the reality — these changes that hurt consumers don’t come all at once, and that’s for a reason. Big cable companies count on making them in steady, creeping ways that go unnoticed — it’s death by a thousand inconveniences,” he said.

The Oregon senator offered as an example the recent proliferation of “unlimited” data plans “that totally throw away the definition of the word ‘unlimited.'”

“To understand the complicated limits on internet access in these newfangled “unlimited” plans, you practically need a graduate degree in big-cable legal jargon,” Wyden said. “Consumers might be forced to swallow hard and accept it, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.”

Wyden also noted that the rise of mega-mergers between content providers and broadband network operators — like the recent merger between Time-Warner and AT&T — can threaten consumers by eroding competition, reducing the number of available choices, and giving rise to anti-competitive bundling deals in which network operators don’t charge for access to one preferred content provider but do so for all others.

“That’s a bad deal for consumers who ought to be able to access what they want and when they want. It’s also a nightmare for startup companies who won’t be able to afford special treatment and won’t be able to compete with the big guys,” he said.

Cantwell says that net neutrality rules are needed to protect jobs from internet companies

Cantwell, D-Wash., noted that strong network neutrality rules would protect the 15,000 internet companies which provide 377,000 jobs and make up one-fifth of the economy in her state.

“We know we have to fight back against companies who gouge consumers or suppress competition. And being one year since the FCC decided to turn back protections for the internet, we’re here today because we know that we’ve already seen the inklings of what is more to come,” she said before adding that broadband provides are already “doing things that are slowing down or charging consumers more.”

Network neutrality rules, Cantwell said, drew comments from more than 20,000 consumers who told the FCC to keep strong protections in place.

“They do not want to see large-scale companies overcharging or gouging them,” she said.
Cantwell argued that strong network neutrality protections are good for the economy because they allow the internet to be a “great equalizer” that is “helping people from different backgrounds participate in our economy.”

“But innovative businesses in every small town and every city need to have an internet that is going to give them access to create jobs and move their local economies forward,” she added, warning that consolidation threatened the internet’s record as an economic engine.

“Today, in the United States, three cable companies – just three cable companies – have control of internet access for 70 percent of Americans. And 80 percent of rural Americans still only have one choice for high-speed broadband in their homes and businesses,” she said.

“So we’re not going to get likely competition where the consumer can just say ‘You’re artificially slowing me down. You’re charging me too much. I’m just going to go to the competition.’ That’s not likely to happen.”

“That is why we need a strong FCC approach to protecting an open internet and saying that they shouldn’t block, they shouldn’t throttle, they shouldn’t manipulate internet access. And without these protections, big cable can move faster in charging more,” Cantwell said.

“I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to say that it’s time to hold these companies accountable and put consumers ahead of these big cable profits.”

(Photo of Sen. Ed Markey on the Senate floor on Tuesday.)

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Congress

McCain’s Absence Means Democrats’ Net Neutrality Bill Expected To Pass 50-49

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. with President Donald Trump (R)

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2018 — The absence of Arizona Senator John McCain (R) from the Senate means Democrats appear to have enough votes to pass a bill to roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of network neutrality rules put in place under the Obama administration, 50-49.

Without McCain, who remains at home in Arizona while undergoing treatment for brain cancer, the Senate’s 49 Democrats can count on 50 votes thanks to the support of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, for S.J. Res. 52, a so-called resolution of disapproval making use of procedures laid out under the 1996 Congressional Review Act to roll back rules the FCC approved in December to repeal regulations put in place under then-chairman Tom Wheeler (D).

Those regulations, formally known as net neutrality rules, prohibit broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon from interfering with users’ internet traffic or prioritizing some traffic over others. Under Wheeler, the FCC did this by classifying broadband internet access services as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Their repeal was a priority for the current Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has long opposed strong net neutrality protections.

Collins was instrumental in getting Democrats’ bill to the floor

Collins’ support for the bill allowed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to force his Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring the Democrat-sponsored bill to the floor using a rarely-used parliamentary maneuver called a discharge petition.

Although Senate rules normally require that 2/3 of the Senate vote in favor of ending debate on a bill before it can receive an up-or-down vote, resolutions under the Congressional Review Act resolutions cannot be filibustered, meaning the measure could pass with a majority vote rather than the de-facto 60-vote threshold that has become the norm thanks to both sides’ increased use of the fillibuster in recent years.

Passage will be a victory for Senate Dems, but the effort’s future beyond that is unclear

The fight to restore the Obama-era net neutrality rules will now depend on two very different politicians: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and President Trump.

Pelosi’s skill at holding her caucus together will be key as the fight moves to the House of Representatives, where Democrats face an uphill battle in gathering enough Republican support to force House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., to hold a vote on a companion to Markey’s bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa.

While the bill’s passage would represent a major — and rare — victory for a Democratic caucus that has struggled to make headway against President Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations, it would also be a rare rebuke to Trump, who has made what his former strategist Steve Bannon called “deconstruction of the administrative state” a major priority.

While Trump has relished the opportunity to sign 15 CRA resolutions since he took office last year — more than all other presidents combined — it’s not known whether he’d sign a 16th if it would restore a regulation promulgated under his predecessor.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was noncommittal last week when asked if President Trump would be amenable to allowing the Democrat-backed bill to become law.

“We’ll keep you posted when we have a specific policy announcement on that front,” she said.

Making Trump’s approval more unlikely is the fact that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave FCC Chairman Pai’s efforts to roll back the Obama-era net neutrality rules the White House’s imprimatur last year during a July press briefing.

“We support the FCC chair’s efforts to review and consider rolling back these rules, and believe that the best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty,” she said.

The future remains clouded but Democrats will still celebrate

Nevertheless, Democrats are planning to enjoy the rare opportunity to strut a bit by holding a press conference after the Senate finishes voting today at around 3 this afternoon, which a source close to Markey said would also serve to highlight House Democrats’ ongoing efforts.

Those expected to speak include Markey, along with Minority Leader Schumer, Sens. Maria Cantwell and Brian Schatz of Washington and Hawaii, respectively.

They will also be joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., along with Doyle and Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who are leading the effort to bring Doyle’s bill to the House floor.

While the Senate effort was made more urgent because of a need to pass Markey’s bill before the end of a 60-day period during which it could be considered, House Democrats have until the end of the 115th Congress’ second session to finish the job.

(creative commons photo: President Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.)

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Congress

Schumer Says Senate To Vote On Overturning FCC Net Neutrality Repeal Wednesday

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.) speaks outside the White House in June 2015

WASHINGTON, May 14, 2018 — The strong network neutrality rules put in place during the Obama administration’s final months will get an up-or-down vote in the United States Senate on Wednesday when a bill to overturn the FCC’s repeal of those rules reaches the Senate floor, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday.

“The internet should be kept free and open like our highways, accessible and affordable to every American, regardless of ability to pay,” Schumer said in a joint statement with Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “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.”

The bill in question is S.J. Res. 52, a so-called resolution of disapproval, which makes use of procedures laid out under the Congressional Review Act in order to roll back rules the FCC approved in December which repealed the Obama-era regulations put in place under then-chairman Tom Wheeler (D).

The regulations, formally known as net neutrality rules, prohibit broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon from interfering with users’ internet traffic or prioritizing some traffic over others. Under Wheeler, the FCC did this by classifying broadband internet access services as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Their repeal was a priority for the current Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has long opposed strong net neutrality protections.

Under the CRA, which was passed by the Republican-led Congress in 1996 and signed by then-President Bill Clinton, Congress can use a joint resolution of disapproval to repeal rules put in place by regulatory agencies like the FCC. Unlike most bills, however, CRA resolutions cannot be filibustered in the Senate, meaning only 51 votes are required to pass them.

Markey urges GOP senators to side with families against ‘broadband barons’

 Markey, the bill’s lead sponsor, said passing it would send a “clear message” that senators support American families, not “not the special interest agenda of President Trump and his broadband baron allies.”

“May 16 will be the most important vote for the internet in the history of the Senate, and I call on my Republicans colleagues to join this movement and stand on the right side of digital history,” he said.

Markey’s bill already has the support of the Senate’s 49 Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

With Senate Democrats in the minority, Collins’ support has been crucial in allowing Schumer to file a discharge petition signed by 50 senators to invoke a rarely-used parliamentary procedure which forces a bill to be brought to the floor for a vote. The maneuver is necessary because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had not indicated any interest in allowing an up-or-down vote on the resolution.

Wednesday’s vote is necessary because the clock is running out on a 60-day period during which the Senate can vote on a resolution of disapproval that began when the FCC published the repeal in the Federal Register. Whether it is successful or not depends on if a 2nd Republican can be persuaded to defy a White House that has made rolling back Obama-era regulations a priority.

During a July 2017 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave Chairman Pai’s efforts the administration’s imprimatur.

“We support the FCC chair’s efforts to review and consider rolling back these rules, and believe that the best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty,” she said.

Even in a best-case scenario, Dems effort could be all for naught without Trump 

Even if Democrats’ effort is successful in finding a 51st vote in the GOP-controlled Senate, House Democrats must still garner enough Republican signatures for a discharge petition of their own, though they have until the end of the 115th Congress’ second session to do so.

Still, even if both chambers pass the bill, the joint resolution would still require the president’s assent — with or without his signature — for it to become law.

While President Donald Trump has signed 15 CRA resolutions since taking office, those have repealed regulations promulgated in the waning days of the previous administration. It is unclear whether Trump would allow a 16th to become law if doing so restored a regulation enacted under his predecessor.

When asked last week if President Trump would be amenable to such a resolution, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was noncommittal as to whether Trump would sign, veto, or allow the bill to become law without his signature.

“We’ll keep you posted when we have a specific policy announcement on that front,” she said.

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