There’s a glimmer of hope for net neutrality yet.
That’s the takeaway from today’s victory in the Senate, where 52 Senators, including three Republicans, voted in support of a resolution that would reverse last year’s FCC ruling to end net neutrality.
Though only one step toward bringing back President Obama’s 2015 net neutrality regulations, the Senate win was still an important milestone for net neutrality advocates.
“Make no mistake this is pretty massive, think about how many times the Senate has voted along party lines,” says Ernesto Falcon, chief legislative counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to “defending civil liberties in the digital world.” (The Senate is currently majority Republican, but not by much, and Republican lawmakers are generally voting against net neutrality.)
Still, others were quick to warn that there’s still much work to be done before net neutrality can be restored. The Senate bill now must go to the House, where it faces a much tougher fight and Republicans have a much larger majority.
“Unfortunately, the rules in the House will make passage much harder than in the Senate; at this point, it’s not clear when, or if, there will be a vote there,” Mozilla, a vocal net neutrality advocate, wrote in a statement following Wednesday’s vote.
And, with the old net neutrality rules officially set to expire on June 11, time is running out for the House to act.
But Falcon says the Senate victory offers some hope for the House. He cites grassroots campaigns for net neutrality in Alaska and Louisiana, which he credits with helping turn two critical votes in the Senate. He also notes net neutrality remains extremely popular — a University of Maryland poll puts public support at 83 percent — and that Republicans in Congress may need to start paying attention, particularly with midterm elections looming overhead.
“The House is even more responsive to public pressure than the Senate,” says Falcon, himself a former House staffer.
What about Trump?
Of course, even if the House manages to pull off a net neutrality victory, there’s still the question of whether the president would actually sign it into law when Trump’s administration undid the rules in the first place.
But not everyone’s so sure. As Tim Wu, the Columbia Law professor credited with coining the term “network neutrality,” points out on Twitter, Trump might not have much incentive to support Pai and Comcast.
Contrary to reporting, I’d say that if Net Neutrality restoration makes it to the White House, all bets are off. Does anyone really think Trump is loyal to Ajit Pai (who?) and Comcast (MSNBC) … it just becomes a whole new and very unpredictable game
— Tim Wu (@superwuster) May 16, 2018
Falcon agrees. “He doesn’t have loyalty to the people who serve within the administration,” he says of Trump. “At the end of the day, the president will look at where his base is.” According to that University of Maryland Poll, 75% of Republicans want net neutrality.
Even without White House support, there are other reasons to remain hopeful about net neutrality. The FCC’s already facing legal action over the issue, with tech companies and dozens of state attorneys general looking to bring the fight for net neutrality to the courts.
But these measures don’t mean people should give up on their elected officials. If net neutrality supporters can pressure their elected officials enough, there’s still hope for more victories like we saw in the Senate — but only if voters do their part, Falcon cautions.
“We should be hopeful, and we should be ready to work.”