Net Neutrality: House Dems Move to Force Vote, Ajit Pai Upset

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Democrats in the United States House of Representatives have already gathered 90 of the 218 signatures they’ll need to force a vote on whether or not to roll back net neutrality rules, while Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai has already predicted that the House effort will fail and large telecommunications companies publicly expressed their anger at last Wednesday’s Senate vote to keep the Obama-era open internet rules in place.

Led by Pai, a Donald Trump appointee, the FCC voted 3-2 along party lines in December to scrap the net neutrality regulations that prevent internet access providers from favoring certain online sites over others, effectively creating an internet landscape dominated by whichever companies can pay the most to get into the online “fast lane.”

Telecommunications companies could also choose to block some sites simply based on their content, a threat to which the online porn industry would be especially vulnerable, after five states have either passed or are considering legislation labeling porn a “public health hazard.”

On May 16, however, the Senate forced a vote on overturning the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules—and the measure passed 52-47 with three Republicans joining all 47 Democrats and two independents in the vote to keep the rules in place.

“It’s disappointing that Senate Democrats forced this resolution through by a narrow margin. But ultimately, I'm confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet will fail,” Pai said in a statement following the Senate vote. “Our light-touch approach will deliver better, faster, and cheaper Internet access and more broadband competition to the American people.”

But Pai has not yet explained how the “light-touch approach” will prevent big internet service companies such as AT&T,  Verizon and others from blocking traffic to sites that can’t pay up, or strangling off access to sites with controversial content, such as porn sites—or even content providers who take political positions that disagree with the telecom corporations’ interests.

While the House Republican leadership has taken the position that the net neutrality issue should not even come to a vote, on May 17 Pennsylvania Democrat Mike Doyle introduced a “discharge petition” that would force the issue to the House floor.

The “discharge petition” process has been in place in Congress since 1931 and was created specifically to allow a majority of House members to overrule the leadership and force votes on specific issues.

A discharge petition needs 218 signatures of House members to succeed in forcing the vote. As of Monday morning, May 21, Doyle’s petition had received 90 signatures. The effort would need all 193 House Democrats plus 25 Republicans to sign on, in order to bring the net neutrality rollback to the House floor.

Photo by Bjoertvedt / Wikimedia Commons