With less than a month remaining before the FCC’s order on “Restoring Internet Freedom” (RIF) goes into effect, Senate lawmakers passed a Congressional Review Act (CRA) on Wednesday which would invalidate the RIF Order and thereby restore previous FCC rules on net neutrality. Those rules classified broadband Internet access services (BIAS) as telecommunications services pursuant to Title II of the 1934 Communications Act.
Adopted last December by a party line vote of 3-2, the RIF Order restored the FCC’s pre-2015 regulatory treatment of BIAS as a Title I service that is exempt from common carrier and other regulations that apply to Title II telecommunications providers. The RIF Order, which is scheduled to go into effect on June 11, also rolled back prohibitions against throttling and paid prioritization and other net neutrality rules that were promulgated by the FCC in 2015.
The CRA passed the Senate by a margin of 52-47, which included all of the Democrats in that chamber, two independent lawmakers, and three Republicans: Susan Collins (R-ME), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). During floor debate on the CRA, Senate Communications Subcommittee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) emphasized that members of the Republican majority support a free and open Internet as evidenced by efforts to enact bipartisan legislation that would codify net neutrality protections. Along the same vein, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) affirmed that he has been seeking Democratic support on draft net neutrality legislation for the past three years. Noting that he attempted unsuccessfully earlier this week to win unanimous consent to bring that draft bill to the Senate floor, Thune lamented Senate passage of the CRA as a stall tactic.
Meanwhile, in the House, ranking House communications subcommittee member Mike Doyle (R-PA) is spearheading efforts to gain enough signatures on a discharge petition that would force a floor vote on the CRA. Sources indicate that 218 signatures are required on that petition and that CRA passage would require ayes from at least two dozen Republicans plus every Democrat in the House. Acknowledging that Democrats face unfavorable odds in achieving CRA passage in the House, Doyle called on the American people to lend their support, declaring that “everyone who believes in a free and Open Internet needs to urge their member of Congress to sign the discharge petition and vote for the CRA resolution.” Similarly, ranking House Energy & Commerce Committee member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) urged his colleagues “to listen to the American people, force a vote on . . . Doyle’s resolution, and send it to the President’s desk.” Despite voicing disappointment in the Senate’s action, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proclaimed: “I’m confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet will fail.”