Democrats are reviving the battle over net neutrality with a new bill that would restore the Obama-era regulations on the broadband industry.
Congressional Democratic leaders introduced the Save the Internet Act with a show of force on Wednesday emphasizing the popularity of the rules and calling on Republicans to back the legislation.
“Supporting this bill means supporting our democracy, ensuring that the voices of the public are heard, their will is respected and the internet remains free and open to all,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a press conference Wednesday alongside top Senate and House Democrats as well as net neutrality activists.
The three-page bill would merely codify the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 Open Internet Order into law, prohibiting internet service providers from blocking, throttling or prioritizing certain web traffic.
Those rules were hugely popular among voters of both parties. Polls have found approval for the rules as high as 83 percent. And during the FCC’s months-long process of repealing the rules in 2017, an unprecedented 24 million comments were submitted to the agency.
Democrats are hoping that support can be translated into public pressure on Republicans to cross the aisle and support the bill.
“I believe very strongly that the way the FCC proceeded in repealing net neutrality was just totally contrary to the will of the people,” Rep. (D-N.J.) said.
Although Republicans have called for bipartisan legislation to settle the years-long fight over the issue, GOP leaders came out against the bill Wednesday.
Republicans have fought the 2015 order as “heavy-handed” because it reclassified broadband providers as telecommunications services, which carries a common carrier designation that opens the industry up to tougher regulations and oversight from the FCC.
Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) — the top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee — insisted that the internet has been functioning just fine since the FCC repealed the reclassification in December 2017.
“Let’s come together to ensure that continues, because all sides want a permanent solution,” they said in a joint statement. “Instead of looking to the extremes, and discarding twenty years of bipartisan consensus, we can come together on shared principles to address blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.”
Republican lawmakers have proposed their own net neutrality bills, but Democrats say they’re too weak and lack the enforcement mechanisms to adequately ensure an open internet.
The repeal of the Obama-era rule removed the FCC’s own authority to police internet service providers and placed the industry under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission, which critics say is not equipped to handle issues like discrimination and throttling.
Democrats believe that any bill that doesn’t include adequate oversight and enforcement is inadequate. Both sides have signaled a willingness to come up with bipartisan legislation, but it’s unclear if questions over the FCC’s authority represent an insurmountable obstacle.
“We want this to be as bipartisan as possible,” Pelosi said.
Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday defended his rollback of the rules and said internet providers should not be subject to public utility-style regulation.
“The FCC’s return in 2017 to the bipartisan, light-touch approach to Internet regulation has been a success. This time-tested framework has preserved the free and open Internet,” Pai said in a statement. “The Internet in America today is free and vibrant, and the main thing it needs to be saved from is heavy-handed regulation from the 1930s.”
The legislation comes as net neutrality supporters and Democratic state attorneys general are battling the FCC in court over its repeal of the rules.
Last month, a panel of federal appeals court judges in Washington seemed skeptical of the agency’s argument that existing antitrust and consumer protection laws are adequate to prevent internet service providers from interfering with web traffic.
Democrats are hopeful that they can peel off Republican supporters in the Senate and send the measure to President Trump‘s desk. But it seems unlikely that it would get his signature, since the White House applauded the FCC’s December 2017 repeal.
A similar bill last year that would have blocked the FCC’s repeal passed the upper chamber thanks to three Republican defections. But the bill later died in the then GOP-controlled House.
Democrats’ new bill may have trouble gaining the necessary Republican votes to pass the Senate, but they insist that public pressure could deliver them a win this time around. They would need at least four defections in a floor vote to pass the bill.
“Now we have a Democratic House, and Republicans will have a second chance — there are second chances — to right the Trump administration’s wrong,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at Wednesday’s press conference.
Pallone, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, promised that the panel will be moving quickly on the bill. The committee is scheduled to hold a legislative hearing on Tuesday.
Updated at 3:06 p.m.