The U.S. Senate voted 52-47 to restore net neutrality and sent a powerful message to Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as well as the largest telecommunications company that it does not agree on its decision to undo the provisions put in place by the Obama administration.
However, the vote is largely symbolic as it still requires the majority vote of Congress to reverse the ruling handed down by the FCC.
The vote was spearheaded by the Democrats and the contentious issue appears to have made the Senate close ranks. Three Republican senators crossed party lines in order to vote in favour of net neutrality. The three senators were Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
The Republicans have a stronghold in Congress and should it get the majority vote, it would still have to secure the approval of President Donald Trump. The vote came in just a few weeks before June 11; the date earmarked by the FCC as the end of net neutrality.
FCC Chairman Pai who had been pushing for the abolition of net neutrality argued that all content on the Internet should have restrictions and for carriers or Internet Service Providers (ISP) to have a measure of control on what passes through.
Pai has reiterated that the removal of net neutrality will not hamper consumers’ freedom on the Internet. Instead, it would benefit consumers by giving them more choices. Carriers would charge subscribers higher fees for better, more tailored content.
Consumers are worried that the removal of net neutrality would expose them to carriers’ unfair business practices such as preventing access to certain websites and paid prioritization. Without net neutrality, carriers could favour one website over another as long as it pays a premium for better access.
Media and technology companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, Etsy and Netflix are ardent supporters of net neutrality.
Many states have not followed the ruling of the FCC and have initiated open internet protection policies. Thus, Pai’s decision has created more problems and complexities as the large telecommunication companies may face stiff challenges at the federal government level.
Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat and FCC Commissioner who voted in favour of net neutrality said the vote had historic implications:
“Today’s vote is a sign that the fight for internet freedom is far from over. I’ll keep raising a ruckus to support net neutrality and I hope others will too.”