With the net neutrality debate raging at the FCC, it’s easy to forgot that net neutrality remains an issue inside of Congress, too — albeit a much, much quieter one. But at least one senator is still hoping to see some movement: on the Senate floor today, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) asked net neutrality supporters on “both sides of the aisle” to come work with him on a legislative solution.
“Congressional action is the only way to solve the endless back and forth on net neutrality rules that we’ve seen over the past several years,” Thune said. “If my colleagues on the other side of the aisle and those who claim to support net neutrality rules want to enshrine protections for consumers with the backing of the law, I call on you today to join me in discussing legislation that would do just that.”
Thune has supported the effort to pass net neutrality legislation for several years now, so his statement today is nothing new. But it shows that, even as Republicans are generally getting what they want from the FCC, there’s recognition that this won’t be the end of the debate. The only way to ensure that this process doesn’t happen all over again when the executive branch changes parties is to put a law in place.
“While we’re not going to agree on everything, I believe there is much room for compromise,” Thune said. “So many of us in Congress already agree on many of the principles of net neutrality … if Republicans and Democrats have the political support to work together on such a compromise, we can enact a regulatory framework that will stand the test of time.”
Thune says his goal is to preserve a “free and open internet for decades to come.” But bipartisan legislation may not deliver everything ardent net neutrality supporters hope for, and specific concerns could prove to be insurmountable. Issues like zero-rating and paid prioritization remain contentious, and those hold-ups could stop legislation from going through.
And while Thune has indicated his support for a net neutrality law, he also speaks quite favorably of the FCC’s current plan to get rid of the rules already in place, calling the Title II policies “burdensome” and “onerous.”
Net neutrality simply isn’t a major priority for either party, both of which have enough pressing and controversial issues in front of them that they likely don’t want to wade into any more trouble than necessary. Republicans are in the middle of passing a wildly unpopular tax cut that will benefit corporations and high earners, and hope to pass cuts on safety net programs like Medicare next year. Meanwhile, Democrats are trying to use what little leverage they have to renew funding for a children’s health insurance program and to stop the deportation of Dreamers.
Thune isn’t the only one in Congress hoping to draw attention to net neutrality. Last week, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) introduced the Save Net Neutrality Act, which would stop the FCC from continuing its current proceeding and leave in place the 2015 rules. Naturally, with Republicans in charge who are supportive of the FCC and focused on other matters, there’s no traction behind it.
Still, the long-running consensus seems to be that Congress will eventually have to do something. There are vocal supporters behind the net neutrality debate, and there’s a general agreement around at least portions of the proposed rules. “There is obviously immense passion that follows the issue of net neutrality,” Thune said. “Americans care deeply about preserving a free and open internet, as do and I and so many of my colleagues here in the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle.”