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Democrats introduce resolution to save net neutrality from repeal

The clock is ticking.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) speaks at a news conference on net neutrality at the U.S. Capitol February 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) speaks at a news conference on net neutrality at the U.S. Capitol February 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A group of Senate Democrats are moving forward with plans to stop the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal of net neutrality, but they only have 60 legislative days to vote on their resolution.

Since the FCC commission voted along party lines to repeal net neutrality in December, Democrats have been vociferous in their opposition. In an editorial for Wired on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that the new net neutrality rules “would let big corporations restrict how consumers access their favorite websites by forcing them to buy internet access in packages, paying more for ‘premium’ service.”

Now that the rules have been published in the Federal Register, however, Democrats have a legislative path to stopping them. On Tuesday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a motion of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to nullify new regulations with a simple majority vote — and Senate Democrats are currently just one shy of the 51 needed. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has signed up, as have 47 Democrats and two Independents. The Democrats have enough support to force the resolution to the Senate floor, but still need that extra vote to get the bill to pass.

If the resolution makes it past the Senate, it will face an even bigger challenge. Democrats need 218 votes to get the measure through the House and currently only have 152. It they manage to gather the 66 votes needed, the bill would move to Trump’s desk, where he would be able to veto it.

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Compounding the problem is FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who has endeared himself to conservatives by moving forward with plans to approve a merger between Tribune Media and Sinclair Broadcasting — a move which would allow Sinclair’s right-wing, Trump-friendly politics to be broadcast to 72 percent of American homes.

Conservatives have already returned the favor in-kind: the FCC chairman was honored at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week with the “Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire” award from the National Rifle Association (NRA). Pai was given a “Kentucky handmade long gun” for his work repealing net neutrality.

While congressional Democrats face difficulties in their attempts to save net neutrality at the federal level, individual states have begun stepping up to remedy the problem themselves. Already, at least 27 have introduced legislation meant to stave off the effects of a repeal, parts of which are set to take effect on April 23; on Wednesday, Washington state passed a bipartisan bill protecting net neutrality and banning ISPs (Internet Service Providers) from blocking or throttling online content.

Meanwhile, back in D.C., efforts to stop the repeal have drawn a huge cast of tech wonks, legal experts, and lawmakers, all working to make sure that the web stays free and open — not beholden to massive corporations, as Pai would have it.

“Net neutrality has to have several things,” said Gigi Sohn, architect of the 2015 net neutrality rules, in an interview with the Washington Post on Wednesday. “Reinstate the rules and give the FCC its authority to oversee the broadband market. Not just the rules — it’s the authority. That’s what the fight is all about.”

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Speaking before a group of net neutrality advocates at the Capitol this week, Sen. Markey hammered this point home. “Whose side are you on?” he asked the crowd. “Do you stand with the big-money corporate interests and their army of lobbyists?”

Fight for the Future organizer Evan Greer agreed. “There are 50 US senators who have a decision to make,” she told CNET. “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?”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misgendered Fight for the Future organizer Evan Greer. It has been updated with the correct pronoun.