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Senate approves bill in bid to retain U.S. net neutrality
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday in favor of keeping open-internet rules in a bid to overturn the Federal Communications Commission decision to repeal net neutrality rules, but the measure is unlikely to be approved by the House of Representatives or the White House.
The 52 to 47 vote margin in the Senate was larger than expected with three Republicans — John Kennedy, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins — voting with 47 Democrats and two independents to reverse the Trump administration’s action.
Democrats used a law that allows Congress to reverse regulatory actions by a simple majority vote but it is not clear if the U.S. House of Representatives will vote at all on the measure, while the White House has said it opposed repealing the December FCC order.
But many politicians are convinced the issue will help motivate younger people to vote in the 2018 congressional elections and numerous polls show overwhelming public support for retaining the Obama-era net neutrality rules.
The FCC in December repealed rules set under Democratic President Barack Obama that barred internet service providers from blocking or slowing access to content or charging consumers more for certain content.
Representative Mike Doyle, a Democrat, said he would launch an effort on Thursday to try to force a House vote and needs the backing of at least two dozen Republicans. He said Democrats would try to make it a campaign issue if Republicans will not allow a vote.
“Let’s treat the internet like the public good that it is. We don’t let water companies or phone companies discriminate against customers; we don’t restrict access to interstate highways, saying you can ride on the highway, and you can’t,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said. “We shouldn’t do that with the internet either.”
The 2015 rules were intended to ensure a free and open internet, give consumers equal access to Web content and bar broadband service providers from favoring their own material or others’.
The new December 2017 rules require internet providers to tell consumers whether they will block or slow content or offer paid “fast lanes.”
Republican Senator John Thune, who chairs the Commerce Committee, said “the fact of the matter is nothing is going to change” after the new rules take effect – and will not prod people to vote. “I don’t know how that animates people to vote if their Netflix is working,” he told Reuters.
The vote was a rare, and likely only symbolic, win for Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate and a rebuke to regulators that approved a sweeping repeal of the Obama rules.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the vote disappointing but added that “ultimately, I’m confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet will fail.” Pai said the his approach “will deliver better, faster, and cheaper Internet access and more broadband competition to the American people.”
Last week, the FCC said the net neutrality rules would expire on June 11 and that the new regulations approved in December, handing providers broad new power over how consumers can access the internet, would take effect.
The revised rules were a win for internet service providers, whose practices faced significant government oversight and FCC investigations under the 2015 order. But the new rules are opposed by internet firms like Facebook Inc <FB.O> and Alphabet Inc <GOOGL.O>.
Comcast Corp <CMCSA.O>, Verizon Communications Inc <VZ.N> and AT&T Inc <T.N> have pledged to not block or discriminate against legal content after the net neutrality rules expire. A group of 22 states have sued the FCC over the repeal.
AT&T said Wednesday it backs an open internet and “actual bipartisan legislation that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protections for all internet users.”
The FCC decided in 2015 to reclassify internet service providers as common carriers under a 1996 law. But unlike how utilities are treated, the FCC decided not to impose rate regulations or require broadband providers to file notice of pricing plans.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Clive McKeef)
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