Senate Democrats opened up a new front Wednesday in the fight to preserve the internet from interference by the broadband providers that control its on-ramps. But as good as it was to see them push back against the wrongheaded approach taken by the new Republican majority on the Federal Communications Commission, the maneuver is likely to be more of a distraction than a solution.
At issue is how to preserve net neutrality. Broadband providers that serve home internet users face little real competition, and they are uniquely positioned to distort competition online by, for example, favoring particular websites and services for a fee.
After several earlier net-neutrality efforts ran into legal trouble, the FCC’s Democratic majority in 2015 classified broadband access service as a utility and imposed a set of strict neutrality rules. Last year, however, the commission’s new Republican majority voted not just to rescind those rules, but effectively to drop all efforts by the FCC to preserve net neutrality.
On Wednesday, Senate Democrats moved to force a vote on a resolution to restore the 2015 rules, and they have 50 Senators lined up in support. Yet the resolution faces next-to-insurmountable odds in the House, where top Republicans have praised the FCC’s deregulatory approach, and with like-minded President Trump. The most meaningful fights will take place in the courts and in state legislatures, where net neutrality supporters are seeking to restore the 2015 rules or impose similar ones at the state level.
Even opponents of the strict 2015 rules recognize that the continual legal and regulatory gyrations are a problem. Rather than jousting over a resolution of disapproval, Congress needs to put this issue to bed once and for all by crafting a bipartisan deal giving the commission limited but clear authority to regulate broadband providers and preserve net neutrality.
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