Democrats in the Senate say that they now have 50 votes for their net neutrality vote. That means they just need one solid yes vote to pass it. But passing a net neutrality move also means that there has to be a vote. There is no guarantee that the leaders of the Senate would allow that.
Time is Running Out
The fiftieth vote comes from Maine Republican Senator, Susan Collins. She has joined the 49 Democrats in the Senate. However, even if the Senate Democrats do get that much needed 51st vote, it by no means is a win. The proposal would then have to go to the House, which is also Republican controlled, and then be signed by the President, a Republican. Congress only has 60 days in which they can seek to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn an independent agency’s policy change.
The decision to rollback net neutrality was so unfavorable that Pai canceled a speech at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show which takes place in Las Vegas every January. He cited security reasons, but many believe it is because the majority of attendees are pro-net neutrality.
Why Republicans Care
The Republicans are currently on an anti-regulation kick, which is seen as pro-business by some, anti-consumer by others. The Republican FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, wiped away an Obama-era regulation that required net neutrality saying it was too constrictive for broadband providers and was the cause of limited innovation and investment in broadband infrastructure. However, since his lifting of the rules, there has been little of either innovation or investment.
The Republicans reap major donor dollars from those broadband companies. AT&T alone spends over $100 million in lobbying Congress on various topics. Senator Mitch McConnell has received over $250,000 from the telecom industry, while Senator John Thune nabbed over $200,000. Both voted yes for a privacy rollback that allowed ISPs to sell your data. Over in the House of Representatives, Steve Scalise pulled down over $120,000, John Shimkus pulled down over $100,000, Gregory Walden over $150,000. They all also voted for the same customer data sale.
Why Democrats Care
The Democrats are said to be fighting for the common man. Without net neutrality, ISPs would be able to charge whatever they like for specific types of data. This is regardless of the fact that all data, while being transmitted, is just a series of zeroes and ones. There is no difference in the data as it passes through the ISP lines. The Democrats believe that the bottom-line-watching ISPs will begin charging different rates for different types of data. Speculation includes them charging more for sites like Facebook and Google which have become integral parts of daily life. They may also charge more for streaming video websites as they use more data bandwidth than text and image-based sites.
The most common example is how Spanish and Portuguese telecoms charge their customers, as there is no net neutrality law in those countries. There is a base price for service and then add-on packages for streaming video, social media, streaming audio, etc. The Democrats believe that this would tilt the access to information in favor of the rich. Many people would be unable to purchase total access packages, which could cost double or triple what their current packages cost. Meanwhile, the rich would simply drop the money and not think twice about it.
ISPs Lost a Lawsuit
The ISPs actually attempted to sue the FCC over the rules, and failed. In the suit, the ISPs claimed that the rules were preventing them from creating innovative new business models. However, three judges decided that the FCC was correct and the policy remained. At that time, many thought that it was a done deal. But when Tom Wheeler left the FCC and Ajit Pai took over, it was the first thing on the chopping block.
Net Neutrality Law
There is no law on net neutrality and as long as the Republicans control Congress and the White House, there is little chance of one being passed. The Democrats seem to be gearing up to make the topic a major pillar of their mid-term elections coming up this year. If they do that, we can expect a lot of attempts to make everyone understand why net neutrality is such an important topic. With a Republican President, Congress would need to get to a two-thirds vote for anything to pass a veto. With the amazing number of Republicans who are retiring that goal could be in sight for the Democrats soon. That could mean that come 2019, we might have net neutrality as law. All Americans would then be safe in the knowledge that they are able to access all websites at the same speed without ISP interference. However, at present this is just a pipe dream as the Republican-controlled Congress and White House most likely will not make a move on it.