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Senate Votes On Net Neutrality

May 16, 2018
Originally published on May 16, 2018 7:53 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Democrats are staging an insurgency of sorts today in the Senate. They're forcing a vote on net neutrality. It's a last-ditch effort to keep Obama-era regulations on internet service providers in place. Here's Senator Ed Markey last week pushing for the vote.

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ED MARKEY: A free and open internet means an internet free from corporate control and open to anyone who wants to connect, communicate or innovate.

MARTIN: NPR's Alina Selyukh is here in the studio to walk us through what's going on.

Hey, Alina.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: Seems like every few months we talk about net neutrality.

SELYUKH: It really does.

MARTIN: So what exactly are lawmakers voting on today?

SELYUKH: So I'll give you my short recap. Politically what's happening here, it's Democrats trying to stop the Trump administration from loosening regulations written by the Obama administration. Policywise, the policy issue at stake is, how strictly should the federal government regulate your internet provider? This is a question that the Federal Communications Commission has struggled with for more than a decade.

MARTIN: Right.

SELYUKH: For example, should your broadband provider be able to stream some video faster than other video? Or should your phone company be able to give you free data in exchange for using a very specific music app? The Obama FCC, three years ago, wrote rules that put internet providers under pretty serious oversight. They imposed the basic net neutrality rules like no blocking, no throttling. Now the Trump FCC has walked all that back. And they're saying, as long as companies are transparent, all the government should do is punish bad behavior after it happens. Senate Democrats don't want this repeal to go into effect, and that's what they're trying to stop with this vote today.

MARTIN: Although Democrats don't have control of Congress - so what are the chances of this actually getting through?

SELYUKH: It's a very unique situation in the Senate. They have the votes for this. All they need is a simple majority. With Senator John McCain being ill, all they need is just one Republican vote. And they have this vote from Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins. But then, to your point, to actually stop the repeal from going into effect, the House has to approve the same measure. And on the House side, there's zero plans to pick this up.

MARTIN: All right.

SELYUKH: And so in Congress, this push is looking pretty much dead after today.

MARTIN: But they must know that. Right?

SELYUKH: Yes.

MARTIN: So Democrats in the Senate must see some value in holding the vote anyway.

SELYUKH: One word - midterms. The Democrats are putting the stake in the ground as sort of the party that supports net neutrality. They're hoping this gets people voting on Election Day. And we are starting to see this big political move on net neutrality. People are putting together trackers showing how lawmakers are voting on this, doing polls that show just how excited people are - how passionate they feel about the internet, how much they worry that prices might go up - all these things.

MARTIN: This is actually animating voters this year?

SELYUKH: I've been covering net neutrality for almost six years now, and this is a fascinating move to me. We're definitely going from, like, conversations in the backrooms of think tanks to now, you know, campaign-type slogans, Twitter one-liners. You know, the government is meddling with your internet - or it's the end of the internet as we know it. Those have been around for a while. But now we are definitely in political territory, sort of further away from the specifics of the policy and into the politics of two divided parties offering completely conflicting visions of what will happen in June when the net neutrality rules go away.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Alina Selyukh breaking it down for us this morning.

Alina thank you so much.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.