A petition presented today by Democratic Senators—and at least one Republican — aiming to trigger a vote on the Trump-era FCC’s controversial repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules could be the first step in a long legislative road to returning the Internet to its former, unthrottled ways. But the petition is also an avenue of last resort, because failure to pass its resolution through both houses of Congress could mean the end of the net neutrality fight.
Under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), the petition, filed by Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and signed by every Democratic Senator plus Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), sets up a 50-49 vote in favor of reinstating the regulations, which the FCC voted to roll back in December 2017, under Trump-appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
Under the petition, Senate Democrats will have 60 days to force a vote on the issue, and with Sen. John McCain away from Washington as he fights brain cancer, the numbers appear to favor proponents of net neutrality. But if McCain returns to the Senate floor, it’s still possible that a net neutrality vote would still pass. As election season approaches, candidates up for re-election won’t want to cross their constituents, and net neutrality is popular with Americans of all stripes.
If the resolution passes, the motion would move to the House for a vote, where prospects are much less certain for free, open internet advocates. Currently, Republicans have a 236-193 advantage voting as a block, but it’s worth noting that not every GOP representative supported Pai’s plans to scrap net neutrality. Only 107 House Republicans signed a December 2017 letter supporting the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality protections.
If the resolution fails to pass either the House or the Senate, the legislative branch has effectively hit a dead end in its efforts to restore net neutrality, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. Companies and industry groups and at least 21 states have filed lawsuits aimed at Pai’s decision to roll back net neutrality protections. Meanwhile, states like Washington, Oregon, and California are proposing—and even passing—net neutrality laws of their own, setting them up for a showdown with the FCC. But these are harder, more granular battles to win, as opposed to Congress’s ability to restore the resolution with a count of hands.