The US Senate today voted to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules, with all members of the Democratic caucus and three Republicans voting in favor of net neutrality.
The Senate approved a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would simply undo the FCC’s December 2017 vote to deregulate the broadband industry. If the CRA is approved by the House and signed by President Trump, Internet service providers would have to continue following rules that prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has scheduled his repeal to take effect on June 11. If Congress doesn’t act, the net neutrality rules and the FCC’s classification of ISPs as common carriers would be eliminated on that date.
GettyImages: Chip Samodevilla
The Federal Communications Commission has voted to deregulate the broadband industry and eliminate net neutrality rules that prohibit Internet service providers from blocking and throttling Internet traffic.
The repeal of net neutrality rules came about a year ago when Donald Trump won the presidency and appointed Republican Ajit Pai to the FCC chairmanship. Pai and Republican Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr provided the three votes necessary to overturn the net neutrality rules and the related “Title II” classification of broadband providers as common carriers.
Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel provided bitter dissents in today’s 3-2 vote. Despite the partisan divide in government, polls show that majorities of both Democratic and Republican voters supported the rules, and net neutrality supporters protested outside the FCC headquarters before the vote.
Home Internet providers and mobile carriers will not be held by strict net neutrality rules. ISPs will be allowed to block or throttle Internet traffic, or offer priority to websites and online services in exchange for payment. The Federal Trade Commission could punish ISPs if they make promises and then break them, but there’s no requirement that the ISPs make the promises in the first place.
/ FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn addresses protesters outside the Federal Communication Commission building to rally against the end of net neutrality rules on December 14, 2017 in Washington, DC.
President Donald Trump plans to nominate Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel for another term on the Federal Communications Commission.
Rosenworcel had to leave the commission at the end of 2016 when the Republican-led US Senate refused to reconfirm her for a second five-year term. The departure of Rosenworcel and former Chairman Tom Wheeler left the FCC with just three out of the typical five members, with Republicans holding a 2-1 majority. Republican senators didn’t want Rosenworcel to stay on the FCC at the time because it would have resulted in a 2-2 deadlock. Commissioners are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. But no party can have more than a one-vote majority, so Trump has to nominate a Democrat and a Republican to fill the empty seats. When a president needs to nominate a commissioner from the opposing party, he takes suggestions from the opposing party’s leadership. Senate Democrats backed Rosenworcel for a return to the FCC, so Trump appears to be following longstanding tradition by nominating her.
In a party-line 50-48 vote Thursday, senators approved a resolution to undo sweeping privacy rules adopted by the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission. If it becomes law, it would also prevent the FCC from setting similar rules again.
The rules have not gone into effect, however ISPs must tell consumers what information is being collected and how it is being used or shared. The rules require ISPs in some cases to get users’ explicit consent, for example to sell information such as geo location or browsing history for advertising.
Republicans in Congress and at the FCC have objected to these rules, passed by the Democratic majority at the FCC in October. They have argued with major cable and telcom companies,that the rules put ISPs on unequal footing with other major data-collecting companies like Google or Facebook, which are overseen instead by the Federal Trade Commission.
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate big cable and broadband providers for pushing consumers to pay “ridiculous prices” for services.
Addressed to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the senators wrote that due to a number of mega-mergers, only 37 percent of Americans “have more than one option for high-speed broadband providers.” The limited options means that companies are able “to charge ridiculous prices and add hidden fees. Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Al Franken, D-Minn., also joined Sanders and Warren in writing the letter.
The FCC is required to keep track of how much telecommunications firms charge consumers, the senators requested that Wheeler hand over the information regarding how much Americans pay on average for Internet and cable services, including averages based on state and company. The senators also want to know how much urban Americans pay compared to rural Americans. Sanders said that “Currently, America ranks 25th worldwide for broadband speed, and we pay more for poorer quality broadband than customers in Slovakia Estonia, South Korea, and the U.K.”
The letter comes at a time when the FCC is considering the merger between Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications, which the senators say would only exacerbate the problem. Recent increases in the price of Time Warner services indicates that the company is already insulated from normal market pressures, the senators say. They cited Time Warner’s modem rental charges increasing by 203 percent since they were introduced in 2012.