Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful, Mass. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Malden, smiles as he asks commuters for their vote while campaigning at North Station in Boston,...
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Senate Democrats to force a vote on net neutrality

The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/14/17, 9:57 PM ET

FCC's Republicans revoke net neutrality

Rachel Maddow reports on the FCC’s vote to end net neutrality rules that forced internet service providers to treat all content equally.
Rachel Maddow reports on the FCC’s vote to end net neutrality rules that forced internet service providers to treat all content equally.
In December, the Federal Communications Commission’s Republican members officially killed Obama-era net neutrality rules. It was the completion of a plan shaped by Donald Trump, who appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to his current post last year.

The specific regulations, however, are still in place, though not for much longer: effective June 11, service providers will no longer have to treat all online content equally. Democratic proponents of net neutrality still act as if they have a shot at rescuing the policy before that deadline, and as the Washington Post  reports, the first key step will happen on the Senate floor this afternoon.

The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on a resolution that aims to undo a sweeping act of deregulation undertaken last year by the Federal Communications Commission – and issue a rebuke to the Trump administration, which supported the FCC’s move. […]

If successful, the legislative gambit could restore the agency’s regulations and hand a victory to tech companies, activists and consumer advocacy groups.

As a rule, the Senate’s Democratic minority has very little power over what measures reach the chamber’s floor for a vote, but in this case, the party is effectively executing a careful strategy.

To save net neutrality, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) filed something called a discharge petition, which skips the committee process, and which enjoys the support of 50 senators. In this case, net neutrality is backed by all 49 members of the Senate Democratic conference, plus Maine’s Susan Collins (R).

When the resolution, which would block the FCC’s decision through the Congressional Review Act, reaches the floor, it cannot be filibustered. If it gets a simple majority, it passes. Barring any last-minutes changes of heart or unexpected absences, it’s likely today’s vote will succeed.

So is that it? Will net neutrality survive after all? Not so fast.

The resolution is effectively just another bill, which means, after today, it would go to the Republican-led House, where it’s likely to face serious resistance from GOP leaders.

But let’s say, just for the sake of conversation, that the measure passes the Senate today, and then somehow passes the House sometime fairly soon. At that point, it would go to Donald Trump for a signature, and though there’s no reason to think the president has any idea what net neutrality is, he’s nevertheless convinced himself that he’s against it.

All of which is to say, the odds of success aren’t great. In fact, net neutrality is likely to remain dead so long as Republican officials control the levers of federal power. Today’s Senate vote will likely be a morale boost for supporters of the idea, but the real action on net neutrality appears to be taking place at the state level.

Postscript: If you’re new to the debate and want a refresher on what net neutrality is all about, take a look at our previous coverage.

Disclosure: I work for MSNBC, which is owned by Comcast, which as Rachel recently explained on the show, has an interest in this fight. Comcast, one of the nation’s leading internet service providers, is on record supporting net neutrality, but the company would like to get rid of the regulations that currently guarantee it.