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In Vote to Restore Net Neutrality Rules, Several Senators Note Importance of Open Internet for Research, Education and Equity

Today, May 16, 2018, the US Senate voted 52-47 to reverse the FCC’s decision that would eviscerate protections for net neutrality.  The Senate used a procedure known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA), allowing Congress to reverse an agency’s decision with a simple majority vote within 60 legislative days of publication of an agency’s decision in the Federal Register. ARL and other net neutrality advocates are celebrating this vote, which as of just a week ago was not assured of passage.

All 49 members of the Democratic caucus voted in favor of the discharge petition and resolution, originally introduced by Senator Markey (D-MA), and were joined by Republican Senators Collins of Maine, Kennedy of Louisiana and Murkowski of Alaska.

The debate on the floor (video available here) included several statements acknowledging the importance of net neutrality to a wide range of constituents, including the research, library and education communities.  For example, Senator Nelson (D-FL) pointed out that education is built on an open Internet:

. . . and that’s why educators and librarians throughout the country have rallied in favor of net neutrality, knowing that an Internet is no longer free and open is a lost education opportunity for our children. Florida’s colleges, universities, and technical schools rely on the free and open Internet for their vital educational and research missions. Unfettered access to the Internet is essential to research, research into issues as critical to the state and nation as medical research, climate change, sea level rise, whatever the research is.

Nelson went on to note the importance of an open Internet as an equitable issue:

Citizens throughout my home state rely on the internet for civic and social engagement. The internet is today’s social forum. It’s a tool that we use to stay engaged in the lives of family, friends, and peers. The internet can also be an equalizing force, and as such has been a place where communities of color have been able to tell their own stories in a way that they have never been able to tell before, and it has given minority communities the power to organize, to share, and to support each other’s causes every.

Senator Murray (D-WA) spoke as a former educator, pointing out:

Schools have worked very hard to improve access to high-speed connectivity for all students because they know from early education through higher education and through workforce training, students need high-speed internet in order to learn and get the skills that they need.

Senator Markey cited a wide range of stakeholders supporting net neutrality as a right:

This vote is a test of the United States Senate and the American people are watching very closely. This vote is about small businesses, librarians, school teachers, innovators, social advocates, YouTubers, college students and millions of other Americans who have spoken with one voice to say, “Access to the Internet is our right and we will not sit idly by while this Administration stomps on that right.” This vote is our moment to show our constituents that the United States Senate can break through the partisanship and break past the powerful outside influences to do the right thing. The right thing for our economy, the right thing for our democracy, the right thing for our consumers, and the right thing for our future. This is common sense to Americans around the country, with the only exception being telecom lobbyists and lawyers inside the beltway. How do I know? Because 86% of all Americans in polling agree that net neutrality should stay on the books as the law of the United States.

Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY) urged his fellow Senators to vote in favor of the CRA resolution and treat the Internet as a public good, ensuring that discrimination does not occur.  He noted that without net neutrality,

. . . the Internet wouldn’t operate on a level playing field. Big corporations and folks who could pay would enjoy the benefits of fast internet and speedy delivery to their customers, while start-ups, small businesses, public schools, average folks, communities of color, rural Americans could well be disadvantaged. Net neutrality protected everyone and prevented large ISPs from discriminating against any customers. That era, the era of a free and open Internet, unfortunately will soon come to an end . . .

It may not be a cataclysm on day one, but sure as rain, if Internet service providers are given the ability to start charging more for preferred service, they’ll find a way to do it . . .Let’s treat the Internet like the public good that it is. We don’t let water companies or phone companies discriminate against customers. We don’t restrict access to interstate highways saying you can ride on the highway, you can’t. We shouldn’t do that with the Internet either.

This Senate vote in favor of restoring net neutrality protections will put pressure on the House of Representatives, which will need all members of the Democratic caucus plus 22 Republicans to discharge the petition and force a vote. While action using CRA in the House of Representatives faces an uphill battle, public polling reveals that more than 80% of Americans support net neutrality and this issue is one that will likely be a prominent in the upcoming elections. Battle for the Net provides an easy tool for individuals to contact lawmakers and urge them to vote to reverse the FCC’s decision.

For a deeper dive into impacts of the loss of net neutrality for research and higher education as well as legal and policy issues, see the latest issue of Research Library Issues. For additional statements and materials related to today’s vote in the Senate, visit this post on InfoDOCKET.