Senate Democrats forced a vote Wednesday seeking to quash the Federal Communications Commission's plan to overturn so-called 'net neutrality' rules the agency passed in 2015, which prevented Internet service providers from blocking or slowing legal traffic, or from being paid for prioritized, faster delivery.
Back in December 2017, the FCC passed the Restoring Internet Freedom order, which overturned net neutrality rules the agency had passed two years earlier when the commission was controlled by Democrats.
Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai, appointed by President Trump in January 2017, had voted against those rules, calling them heavy-handed, and shepherded through regulations that overturned them.
The new rules, which go into effect next month, require Internet service providers (ISPs) to disclose any blocking, throttling or prioritization of their own content or from their partners. However, they are not prevented from doing so. ISPs have said they won't block or throttle legal websites, but have left open the potential for charging more for transport of some data.
But those new regulations fall short, say proponents of net neutrality, the principle that ISPs should give consumers access to all legal content and applications on an equal basis, not favoring some sources or blocking others.
That's led some in Congress to support a Congressional Review Act vote to overturn the 2017 measure (the CRA is a quick way to nix newly-passed regulations within 60 legislative days of passage).
Democrats in the Senate could prevail in a vote as they have at least 50 votes with all of their party on board, plus Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. (Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is undergoing cancer treatment in Arizona and is not in Washington, D.C., to vote.)
However, the measure is unlikely to pass in the U.S. House and even if it were would have to be approved by President Trump.
Still, Democrats hope a public vote might increase the pre-midterm election pressure on some lawmakers to reconsider their support on an issue that's popular with voters. Passage in the Senate would "send a clear message to American families that we support them, not the special interest agenda of President Trump and his broadband baron allies," said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who sponsored the CRA resolution.
The vote, he said, "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.'
Senators were debating the issue Wednesday afternoon with a vote expected about 3 p.m. ET.
Among the groups supporting the CRA vote were several educational and research organizations.
"It's important that we continue to push forward even when we don't like our political chances because this is a really critical issue," said Krista Cox, director of public policy initiatives for the Association of Research Libraries. "A big part of this is continuing to support things we believe in but also raising awareness and ensuring that people are aware that Congress has the opportunity to act here."
However, the Democrats' deployment of the CRA may misfire since the law is meant to overturn regulations, not the the repeal of regulations, says Randolph May, president of the Free State Foundation. "It is unclear, as a matter of law, whether the CRA can repeal an 'order' as opposed to a 'rule'," he said in a statement.
Should the CRA actually pass, it could diminish privacy protections granted to the Federal Trade Commission in the 2017 order, May says. "If Congress wants to weigh in on net neutrality, it should not act inaptly, but rather affirmatively to adopt a law clearly embodying the policies and practices it deems appropriate.'
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.
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