Future Tense

The House Just Passed a Bill to Bring Back Net Neutrality

A gloved hand holds a "Save the Net" protest sign. A building is in the background.
A protester at a 2017 demonstration against the repeal of net neutrality in Washington. Alex Edelman/Getty Images

The fight to bring net neutrality back from the dead got a major, if perhaps symbolic, boost on Wednesday. House lawmakers passed the Save the Internet Act, a Democrat-backed bill that would prohibit companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from slowing down, blocking, or charging websites to reach users at faster speeds, with a vote of 232 to 190. The act would restore the Obama-era net neutrality rules that Trump’s Federal Communications Commission repealed in 2017. Right now, it’s perfectly legal for internet providers to manage their traffic however they want, so long as the terms of service say they reserve the right to do so.

But the bill is unlikely to succeed in the Senate, where Republicans are in control. Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday that the Save the Internet Act would be “dead on arrival” when it reached the Senate. On top of that, on Monday White House aides issued a recommendation that Trump veto the bill if it reaches his desk. But that hasn’t dissuaded net neutrality advocates from encouraging people to contact their senators.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai repealed the net neutrality rules in December 2017, despite a scandal-strewn public comment process that was rife with bot activity and faked participation, including comments posted with the names of dead people and foreign email addresses.

Despite McConnell’s statement, not all Republicans are against restoring the open internet rules. In 2018, lawmakers attempted to undo the FCC’s net neutrality repeal by passing what’s called a Congressional Review Act resolution, which allows Congress to overturn regulatory actions. The resolution narrowly passed the Senate, thanks to three Republicans—Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. But it failed to get the votes needed in the then–Republican majority House. There may be a chance of mustering some bipartisan support again in the Senate.

The issue is wildly popular among Democrats, who have submitted millions of comments to the FCC in favor of supporting net neutrality protections. Democrats may see the issue as a way to keep voters engaged and as a mobilization strategy leading up to the 2020 elections.

Even this legislation fails, there may still be some hope in the judiciary. The net neutrality repeal sparked a wave legal challenges, including from 22 state attorneys general and consumer advocacy groups. A federal appeals court in Washington heard arguments to undo the FCC’s net neutrality repeal earlier this year and is expected to issue a decision at some point this summer.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.