The Democratic push to restore net neutrality took another step today with the official filing of a petition, under the Congressional Review Act, to force a vote on whether to repeal the FCC’s unpopular new rules. The effort may be doomed in the end, but it’s still extremely important.
The CRA is a way of reversing rules recently instated by federal agencies; it’s simple and effective, though, until this administration, rarely used (but they made up for lost time, all right). Its expedited process and low bar to entry — only 30 senators are needed to bring a vote, and the vote generally happens quite quickly — have made it an ideal tool for Congress to undo Obama-era regulations, but the shoe is on the other foot now.
Democrats in the Senate are using the CRA as a potential method of removing the rules the FCC voted for in December and returning to 2015’s Open Internet Order and strong net neutrality rules. Today they filed the actual petition to force the vote.
“This is the fight for the internet,” said Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) in a press conference introducing the action. “By passing this resolution, we can send a clear message that this Congress won’t fall to the special interest agenda of President Trump and his broadband baron allies, but rather will do right by the people that send us here.”
You can watch the whole proceeding below:
Right now there are 50 senators supporting the measure, including one Republican. The Democrats are hoping to make this issue extremely visible in order to put pressure on other, perhaps undecided, Republicans who might cross the aisle with enough prodding from their constituency.
As I’ve written before, and as Senators themselves have admitted, the chance of this actually rolling back the rules is low, since it would have to also pass through the House, where Democrats are at a more serious disadvantage, then be signed by the president, which is unlikely, to say the least.
But by forcing a vote, they force everyone in the Senate to take a position for or against the rules, including those who have attempted to stay “neutral” through silence.
By making them take a position with consequences, net neutrality can be made into a voting issue come election season this year, and in 2020.
“It always helps to build pressure at the FCC level, but this is about us losing elections,” Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) told me late last year when this effort was just starting. “They have a 3:2 edge at the FCC because we lost. We have to understand that when we vote in 2020, we’re voting on the future of the internet. We can generate a lot of emails and that’s great. But the moment those emails are converted to votes, we win.”
Expect the actual vote to take place some time in the next week or so, though be warned that even in the case of success there won’t be any immediate effect. As with everything in government, even the short game is a long game. But it’s imperative that in the meantime voters don’t forget that this is an ongoing and critical issue.