Senate Democrats' official launch of their effort to nullfy the Republican FCC majority's vote to eliminate net neutrality regulations drew a lot of response Wednesday (May 9.)
A discharge petition was officially filed with enough supporters -- 50 signed on, but only 30 were needed -- to force a vote on the CRA in the full Senate by July 12. The resolution will need at least 51 votes to pass the Senate, so there is still work, and an up-Hill battle after that since it had only 160 House votes at press time, far short of the 200-plus needed.
In any event, the discharge petition was another milepost in the long and winding road of net neutrality regulation.
"When the CRA resolution comes to a vote, lawmakers will have to make a choice, and the sides are clear," said Demand Progress communications director Mark Stanley. "Lawmakers can join with big cable companies that want to control the internet for profit. Or they can stand with the millions of Americans who overwhelmingly support net neutrality and rely on the open internet for news, entertainment and communication, as well as small business owners who depend on it for their livelihoods."
Given that the CRA is likely going to be DOA in the House, some Democrats are looking to use the CRA vote and the overall issue against Republicans come mid-term election time.
And while bipartisan legislation on new net neutrality regs, which Republicans are pushing, is a long shot in any event, the fact that such legislation would take the teeth out of that election issue could be another reason not to look for a net neutrality bill in the near term.
“Public Knowledge is grateful to the 50 Republican, Democrat, and Independent Senators who have already expressed their support for the CRA resolution to overturn the net neutrality repeal," said Public Knowledge vice president Chris Lewis. "With the discharge petition filed, it is now time for the rest of the U.S. Senate to listen to the overwhelming view of the American people and vote to restore clear, simple net neutrality rules that protect Americans’ right to choose what they see online -- not gatekeeper broadband providers."
Leading with the "Republican" in that list of supporters was clearly not in order of support. The bill has 48 Democratic supporters and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with the Dems, but only one Republican, moderate Susan Collins of Maine.
"With the discharge petition filed, the Senate has an opportunity to take a major step forward in restoring the net neutrality rules," said Mike Copps, former FCC chair and now a special advisor to Common Cause. "The internet belongs to everyone and is vital to a functioning democracy."
On the other side, Free State Foundation president Randolph May said that if the CRA were to pass, it "would have the perverse effect — among others — of diminishing privacy protection for consumers of Internet.
"[I]f Congress adopts the net neutrality CRA overturning the Restoring Internet Freedom Order," said May, "the effect would be to jettison the Federal Trade Commission’s current symmetrical privacy regulatory regime. The FTC would be divested of authority over the ISPs. Thus, consumers would be left with less privacy protection. And, importantly, under the Congressional Review Act, the FCC would be precluded from adopting a new privacy regulation applicable to ISPs that is 'substantially the same' as the one overturned in April 2016 [via a Republican-led CRA resolution that did pass]."
“Today’s discharge petition is a blatantly political and largely symbolic maneuver to overturn the FCC’s repeal of 1930’s era regulations and will do nothing to ensure that consumers have permanent and meaningful open Internet and privacy protections," said Broadband for America. "Instead of rushing towards a vote while the Senate is not fully represented, policymakers should instead come to the table and create a comprehensive, bipartisan solution that protects consumers and allows the internet to continue to grow.”
Another opponent is Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, who wrote in a CNBC op ed Wednesday that the Democratic CRA was rooted in "fear mongering and manufactured hand-wringing."
“CTIA and our members support the Open Internet," said CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker. "We believe a better way forward than the CRA would be to establish permanent bipartisan rules to protect Americans online, while maintaining the regulatory framework that allowed the Internet to flourish.”
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.