Senate Democrats block vote to overturn FCC Internet regulations

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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The U.S. Senate voted 46-52 along partisan lines, shooting down a Republican effort to stop the Federal Communications Commission from regulating the Internet through net neutrality.

The net neutrality rules will take affect November 20. The White House had promised to veto the Republican legislation if it passed. The fate of net neutrality will now likely be determined in 2012 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Six Democrats and 280 Republicans in the House and Senate voted  to overturn net neutrality. Two Republicans, 228 Democrats and one independent voted to uphold it.

Before the vote, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell — one of the two dissenting voices on the FCC — told TheDC, “This used to not be a partisan issue to keep government influence out of the Internet, both in the U.S. and internationally.”

The rules were passed by the FCC in December 2010 in a highly controversial vote that went against a previous ruling by a D.C. court that said net neutrality regulations were outside the commission’s authority.

Supporters of the FCC’s rules say the regulatory agency is within its legal jurisdiction to issue the rules as a means to protect tech startups and small businesses from larger companies, thereby, they hope, ensuring the protection of free speech. Opponents say the Internet’s success is due to market forces working free of government intervention.

Democratic Sen. John Kerry called the results of the vote a “victory for innovation, consumers, and common sense.” (RELATED: Norquist threatens Senate on net neutrality vote)

“Today, the Senate refused to hand over the Internet to a small group of corporate interests, and we need to keep up the fight because we know this isn’t the last we’ve heard of the assault on net neutrality,” Kerry said in a statement following the vote.

Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken, a staunch supporter of the FCC’s Internet rules, has argued that net neutrality is “the most important free speech issue of our time.”

The view that net neutrality ensures free speech permeates the FCC’s Internet rules and is a perspective echoed on the international level by the United Nations.

“There are no free speech issues on the Internet in the U.S.,” McDowell told TheDC. McDowell said the First Amendment was the “bullwark” against government encroachment of free speech, making net neutrality regulation unnecessary.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Franken argued that the success of YouTube and Google would not have been possible without net neutrality.” Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who led the Republican effort to end the regulation, reminded Franken that the FCC’s net neutrality rules did not exist when those companies were created. Franken was elected to the Senate in a highly controversial election, in which he was backed by billionaire George Soros — a significant contributor to organizations that are ardent proponents of net neutrality.

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) President Grover Norquist joined with other tax reform advocacy groups to send a letter to senators on Tuesday stating that votes on net neutrality would be taken into consideration when their organizations rated the senators for their yearly voting scorecards.

“Politicians on both sides of the aisle always talk about opposing job-killing and unnecessary regulations,” Kelly Cobb, government affairs manager at ATR, told TheDC.  “Here, they had their chance, but Senate Democrats voted as a block to impose new, unwarranted Internet rules.”

“It’s discouraging that the Senate was unable to overcome partisan political bickering to overturn a regulation for which the FCC has no congressional authority to implement,” Taxpayers Protection Alliance President David Williams  — another signee of Tuesday’s letter — told TheDC. “The Internet has become another casualty in the war against the free market.”

“Today, 52 lawmakers decided to give up on making law and instead allow unelected, unaccountable Obama administration bureaucrats to illegally do their jobs for them,” said Seton Motley, president of Less Government, in a statement following the vote.

“If these 52 senators don’t want to do their jobs, why did they ask their constituents to give them the honor and opportunity?,” Motley asked. ” These egregious misrepresentations are easily correctable.  And we the people will begin doing so, starting next November.”

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