Hurdles Remain After Senate Votes To Restore Net Neutrality

The U.S. Senate gave the nod to restoring the 2015 Open Internet Order, putting net neutrality on the fast track to a House vote.

The U.S. Senate this week gave the nod to restoring net neutrality regulations that would prevent ISPs from controlling access to certain websites.

But roadblocks remain, even as the legislation is pushed on the fast track to a House vote: Bigwig ISPs, independent ISPs, small businesses, Democrats and Republicans are all continuing to butt heads over the controversial regulations.

“The main challenge is that the size of the House of Representatives means more people are needed to get the majority required to pass the bill,” Katharine Trendacosta, policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Threatpost.

Net neutrality ensures that ISPs don’t discriminate against different types of internet content. Also known as the Open Internet Order, passed three years ago during the Obama-era, the rules prohibit ISPs from blocking, throttling or discriminating against any internet content, and from establishing a pay-to-play scheme that requires content providers to pay for the privilege of transmission.

The 52-47 Senate vote on Wednesday follows months of anticipation after the Trump administration in December signed an order repealing the Open Internet Order. The repeal is scheduled to take effect on June 11.

On the heels of the repeal, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) submitted a replacement called the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which returned the internet regulations “to the traditional light-touch framework that was in place until 2015,” according to the regulator.

Activists, technology groups and political players on both sides have clashed over the net neutrality laws. Up to 23 U.S. Attoneys General, as well as tech companies like Mozilla, Reddit and Etsy, have actively opposed the repeal of net neutrality. Their concern is that absent such regulation, ISPs could deny access to cloud-delivered services that compete with their own offerings. For instance, companies like Comcast or Verizon, which are large ISPs as well as pay-TV providers, could throttle services like Hulu or Netflix in order to give their own video services a better experience for consumers. Proponents also argue that paid prioritization (“fast lanes”) could also be used as a competitive tool to drive smaller and start-up over-the-top and cloud application providers out of business, who may not be able to pay for carriage.

“We will continue to fight for net neutrality in every way possible as we try to protect against erosion into a discriminatory internet, with ultimately a far worse experience for any users and businesses who don’t pay more for special treatment,” said Denelle Dixon, chief operating officer at Mozilla, in a statementafter the Senate vote.

On the other side of the coin, the 2015 net neutrality regulations have been opposed by large ISPs like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon. Opponents of net neutrality argue for a market-based approach and claim the regulation is overreach.

“This vote throws into reverse our shared goal of maintaining an open, thriving internet,” said Jonathan Spalter the president and CEO of USTelecom, an organization that represents telecommunications-related businesses like AT&T and Verizon. “Consumers want permanent, comprehensive online protections, not half measures or election year posturing from our representatives in Congress.  While we are disappointed by this vote, broadband providers remain committed to safeguarding the digital lives of consumers and advancing bipartisan legislation that codifies net neutrality principles across the online world.”

Ajit Pai, the Republican chairman of the FCC who penned the Restoring Internet Freedom Order released in January, also called the Senate vote “disappointing” and an impediment to a “free and open” internet.

“It’s disappointing that Senate Democrats forced this resolution through by a narrow margin.  But ultimately, I’m confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the internet will fail,” said Pai in a statement after the vote. “The internet was free and open before 2015, when the prior FCC buckled to political pressure from the White House and imposed utility-style regulation on the Internet.  And it will continue to be free and open once the Restoring Internet Freedom Order takes effect on June 11.”

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats like Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) also took to Twitter to express support of the restoration of the Open Internet Order.

However, with the 2018 midterm elections looming in November, these efforts may be seen merely as a political method to rally both parties.

The measure needs to win a majority vote, or 218 votes, in a House where Republicans dominate; and to get a signature from President Donald Trump, who supports the FCC’s action.

For the meantime, Trendacosta argues that the vote at least sets the ground rules for future net neutrality legislation: “It helps establish a floor,” she told Threatpost. “The Senate voted to keep a rule that banned blocking, throttling and paid prioritization. That should send a message that any bill they consider in the future should at least keep those protections in place.”

 

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