Murkowski bucks GOP as Senate votes to reinstate net neutrality
The Senate voted Wednesday to pass Democratic legislation to repeal the FCC's dismantling of net neutrality regulations and reinstate net neutrality, 52 yeas to 47 nays.
The resolution being offered by Democrats passed with the support of all 49 members of the Democratic caucus and three Republicans – Senators Collins, R-Maine, John Kennedy, R-La., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, "This is our chance – our best chance – to make sure the internet stays accessible and affordable for all Americans.
Murkowski crossed party lines last year to stop the GOP's health care reform plan, but later stayed in the majority to approve its tax reform bill which included provisions for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. On Wednesday, her office released a video in which he said that "regulating the internet like a utility under a 1934 law is not the way to an open internet."
"I voted to pass this resolution today so we can reset the discussion, and really move beyond the politics that are at play here," Murkowski said. "So that we can move to what is really needed, which is lasting legislation that will provide certainty and move us beyond these shifting regulatory standards that depend on who's running the FCC."
Alaska's junior U.S. senator, fellow Republican Dan Sullivan, voted against the resolution. In a statement he pointed to his record of opposing net neutrality, adding that Wednesday's vote was "more political theater than a serious attempt at a bipartisan solution."
“I have consistently stated to Alaskans that I strongly support preserving a free and open internet – and believe that keeping the internet affordable and accessible to all consumers is an essential principle in internet governance," Sullivan said. "And because there have been recent dramatic swings from the FCC on the issue, it is critical we develop a bipartisan legislative solution.”
Under the original net neutrality rule, internet service providers were also banned from providing faster internet access and preferred services to companies for extra fees - so called "fast lanes." The FCC voted in December 2015 to undo the net neutrality rules.
Don't expect the House to go along with the Senate on this. Opponents such as Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said the Senate's vote later Wednesday on a measure reversing the Federal Communications Commission's decision that scrapped the "net neutrality" rule amounted to "political theater" with no prospects of approval by the GOP-controlled House.
Net neutrality prevented providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from interfering with internet traffic and favoring their own sites and apps.
Telecommunications companies lobbied hard to overturn the 2015 rule, saying it discouraged investment and innovation. The FCC said in repealing it last December that it was simply restoring the "light-touch framework" that has governed the internet for most of its existence.
But the move has stirred fears among consumer advocates that cable and phone giants will be free to block access to services they don't like or set up "fast lanes" for preferred services — in turn, relegating everyone else to "slow lanes."
Thune urged Democrats to work with him on a plan that he said would incorporate the net neutrality principles they desire without onerous regulation that he said made it harder to connect more Americans to the internet and to upgrade service.
He said the internet thrived long before the Obama administration stepped in, and he predicted that when the Trump administration's rule scrapping net neutrality goes into effect in June, consumers won't notice a change in service.
"That's what we're going back to: rules that were in place for two decades under a light-touch regulatory approach that allowed the internet to explode and prosper and grow," Thune said.
Democrats were undeterred. They saw their effort as something that will energize young voters who value unfettered access to the internet.
"This is our chance, our best chance to make sure the internet stays accessible and affordable to all Americans," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., before the vote.
CBS News' John Nolen contributed to this report.
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