Update May 16, 2018, 3:55 PM EDT
In a 52–47 vote today, senators voted to overturn the Federal Communication Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which took net neutrality rules off the books. They were able to do so using the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, which allows Congress to reverse recent decisions by government agencies. Republican control of Congress means that such a measure wouldn’t normally even make it up for a vote; but the CRA allows senators to force a vote by obtaining 30 signatures.
All 49 Democrats voted in favor, as well as Republican Senators Susan Collins, of Maine; John Kennedy, of Louisiana; and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska.
We aren’t out of the woods yet. In order for net neutrality to actually be reinstated, two more things have to happen. First, the House has to use the CRA to overturn the policy as well. Instead of 30 signatures, net neutrality supporters have to collect signatures from a full majority of House members. Even if they get every single Democrat on board — and they don’t have that yet — they’d still need the support of 22 Republicans. And finally, if that happened and they all voted to reverse the policy, it’d still have to get signed by President Trump, who is not a fan of the policy.
In a few hours, the Senate will vote on a resolution to block the FCC’s repeal and restore basic protections that prevent companies like Comcast and AT&T from censoring online content, slowing down websites and apps, and charging expensive new fees. The outcome of this vote will affect the battlefield over the fate of net neutrality for years to come.
The latest polls show that 86% of voters from across the political spectrum—Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike—oppose the FCC’s repeal. No one wants their cable company to control which websites and apps they can use, where they get their news, or how they listen to music and stream video.
And that overwhelming public consensus is turning into real political power. Dozens of attorneys general, small and large businesses, and public interest groups have filed lawsuits to save the rules. More than 30 states are considering local legislation in defiance of the FCC, and one hundred mayors have pledged to defend the open Internet in their cities thanks to more than 16 million emails and calls to lawmakers since the latest attack began.
Last week, Ajit Pai announced that net neutrality rules will officially end on June 11th. But when the FCC repeal goes into effect on June 11th, “the Internet as we know it” will not suddenly die. Nothing will happen right away.
The big ISPs aren’t going to immediately start blocking websites or rolling out harmful paid prioritization scams. Not while Congress and the courts are still deliberating. Not while major states like California and New York are considering legislation. Not while they know the whole Internet is poised to attack as soon as they break the rules.
No, the Internet’s death will be slow. But over time, there will be less innovative startups, less choice and diversity of opinion online, less creativity, more centralization, less awesome. We’ll also lose one of the most important tools we have for exposing corruption, challenging tyranny, and holding the powerful accountable.
If you haven’t made the time to contact your congressional leader, do so now. There are still a few hours left before the vote, and every vote matters.
We’ll keep you updated as this story develops.