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Senate Democrats pass measure to restore net neutrality; House passage unlikely

Senate Democrats, with the help of a few key Republicans, voted May 16 to pass a measure that would restore the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules.

Using the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, 52 U.S. Senators voted to pass a resolution disapproving of the FCC's 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom order. The 2017 order reclassified broadband as a Title I service under the Communications Act, versus the Title II classification that was adopted in 2015 under the prior Democratic administration. The FCC has less regulatory power over Title I services, meaning that it cannot impose tariffs or set rate regulations over internet service providers under the new classification. The order also eliminated the FCC's net neutrality rules, which prohibited network operators from blocking or throttling legal internet traffic or prioritizing certain traffic in exchange for payment.

The CRA, used by Republicans in 2017 to overturn various Obama-era regulations, allows lawmakers 60 legislative days to disapprove of a newly issued regulation. The CRA also contains a provision that prohibits an agency from issuing a new rule in "substantially the same form" as a regulation disapproved by Congress. In other words, if the CRA is successfully used to overturn the FCC's 2017 order, not only would the previous net neutrality rules be restored, but in addition, the FCC would be prohibited from ever reclassifying broadband as a Title I service in the future.

The 49 Senate Democrats were able to pass the CRA with the support of Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John Kennedy of Louisiana. The CRA requires a simple majority vote in Congress plus presidential approval. As such, Senate Democrats needed only 51 votes, as opposed to the usual 60, to pass the measure. But with Republicans holding a much larger majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the resolution is unlikely to succeed in that chamber, nor is it likely to be supported in the White House.

In a statement, Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., acknowledged it would not be easy to get the measure through the House. "With the majority leadership in the House opposed to this bill, the only way to bring it before the full House for a vote is through a discharge petition," he said. Under the rules of the House, a bill must be brought to the House floor for a vote if a majority of representatives sign a discharge petition demanding it.

"I'm filing a discharge petition to force a vote on the legislation to save net neutrality, and we just need to get a majority of representatives to sign it," Doyle said.

The FCC's order repealing the net neutrality rules is set to officially go into effect June 11.