Democratic Senators Block Republican-led Net Neutrality Repeal
November 11, 2011 9:11 AM
Even if the repeal had passed the Senate, President Obama had promised to veto it
After months of threats and debating, the Republican leadership in Congress moved forward with plans to block the
U.S. Federal Communication Commission
rolling out basic net neutrality rules
, which prevent landline internet carriers from throttling the user's connection,
charging on a per website basis
, or engaging in other tactics designed to slow some sites' load times and speed others' up.
I. Republicans Push for Net Neutrality Ban
As Republicans control the House of Representatives, the key battleground in the repeal effort would be the Senate.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
(R-Texas) sponsored the repeal resolution, S.J. Res. 6.
Sen. Hutchinson took a hard stance, arguing that ISPs should be allowed to charge users on a per-site basis and throttle as they wish, without regulation. She comments, "The internet and technology have produced more jobs in this country than just about any other sector. It has been the cradle of innovation, it does not have a problem, and it does not need fixing."
Others in her party took a softer approach.
Sen. Olympia Snowe
(R-Maine) wrote a "dear colleague" letter to her fellow Republicans. In it she wrote that she felt that net neutrality regulation
necessary to protect consumer abuse. But she argued the proper place for it was through the Senate, not the FCC.
But if "pro-net neutrality" Republicans senators had an alternative plan they failed to propose it in concrete form. And it was unclear when or if a replacement to the current rules would be drafted if repeal was pass -- or for that matter whether a net neutrality bill could past muster in the House and Senate given many Republicans absolute opposition to anything standing in the way of ISPs' efforts to increase profits by cutting back and restructuring regional internet services.
The hardline Republicans like Sen. Hutchinson who flatly opposed any regulation argued that regulation would kill jobs. Sen. Hutchinson
pointed to industry studies
that claimed net neutrality regulation would slow infrastructure deployment, and by proxy reduce jobs.
The Republican-controlled House had
passed a net neutrality repeal measure
in February 2011.
President Obama threatened to veto S.J. Res. 6
II. Democrats Warn That Repeal Would Kill Innovation, Free Speech
The repeal had Democratic President Barack Obama concerned enough that he
threatened to veto the bill
[PDF] if it should pass, with his office writing in a release, "If the President is presented with S.J. Res. 6, which would not safeguard the free and open Internet, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the Resolution."
But this dramatic game of political theater end rather mundanely as the Democratic majority in the Senate rallied together in opposition of the resolution.
Sen. John "Jay" Rockefeller IV
, the great-grandson of famous oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, led the opposition commenting:
There's still 53 of us, and if we stay together we'll win. I think we're going to prevail. Even if they don't, they'll still have the backing of the White House, which has already threatened to veto the resolution, should it survive past the Senate floor. It would be ill-advised to threaten the very foundations of innovation in the Internet economy and the democratic spirit that has made the Internet a force for social progress around the world.
III. Wednesday's Fiery Debate
Here's some video coverage of Wednesday's debate, which preceded a vote:
Democratic Perspective (~3 min)
Republican perspective (~17 min, but starts off strong)
IV. Democrats Emerge Triumphant
Sen. Rockefeller's stand paid off. The final vote was tallied yesterday and showed all 52 Democrats voting opposing the measure, and all 46 Republicans voting in favor of the measure. The bill was thus defeated, clearing the way for the FCC's new net neutrality rules to go into effect next week.
Two senators did not vote --
Sen. John McCain
Senator Dan Inouye
(D-Haw.). It appears that Sen. Inouye was
at an event in Washington, D.C.
honoring a Japanese veteran of World War II. It was unclear why John McCain -- who had
previously led the charge against net neutrality
-- did not vote.
V. Legal Challenges Remain
The rejection of the repeal resolution now leaves the various lawsuits against the rules as the only thing standing in their way. Interestingly, advocacy groups have also opposed the rules claiming they do not go far enough, and unfairly exempt mobile devices from their provisions. Several groups have pursued legal action.
The Media Access Project
, who had been suing on the grounds of the lax approach to mobile regulation, dropped its legal action after it saw its case assigned to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Policy Director Andrew Jay Schwartzman
that his organization feared a hostile atmosphere in that particular court would kill the case. He comments, "The D.C. Circuit Court is a very hostile forum. [It would be a] very close case."
That leaves The Free Press, who is suing on similar grounds. Strangely The Free Press's President and CEO Craig Aaron -- leading the suit
the rules -- cheered the Democratic success in block their repeal in the Senate. He comments, "The Senate sent a strong signal today to would-be gatekeepers that the free and open internet needs to stay that way. The American public doesn't want phone and cable companies undercutting competition, deciding which websites will work or censoring what people can do online."
Most public advocacy groups lauded the vote, while saying the rules still should be extended farther. Among them is the
American Civil Liberties Union
. In a post entitled "It Was Close, But We Won: Viva Net Neutrality!" ACLU Washington, D.C. staffer Sandra Fulton
Though the FCC’s rules are not great, they do offer some protections for net neutrality on the wired Internet and overturning them would have been a huge setback for free speech on the web. During debate on the Senate floor yesterday supporters of the resolution railed against government regulation while opponents defended the rules saying they were necessary to maintain the openness and innovation that has allowed the Internet to thrive.
On the other side of the spectrum, there's also a suit from Verizon Wireless, the joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc. (
) and Vodafone Group Plc. (
). It's hard to understand why Verizon
decided to sue the FCC
, given that the Commission's proposal
that which a Verizon - Google, Inc. (
pact proposed in Aug. 2010
. The rules offer virtually no regulation on mobile internet service providers -- just as Verizon requested.
Verizon's lawsuit will be heard in the Spring or Summer. In the meantime Verizon could request in court that the rules be suspended pending the outcome of the lawsuit. The FCC has already taken a preemptive strike,
moving to dismiss Verizon's lawsuit
on legal technicalities.
The Democratic-majority FCC under the Obama administration has been quite busy. It is currently in the process of finalizing a spectrum auction, an effort carriers laud but some TV broadcaster loathe. It's also assisting the
U.S. Department of Justice
in its case against AT&T, Inc. (
) who is trying to engulf T-Mobile USA -- a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG (
) -- a move which would
grant it a virtual monopoly on 3G GSM technology
in the U.S.
The White House
"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home
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