Many had thought that net neutrality in the USA was dead. But, yesterday, the US Senate may have just handed it a lifeline after they voted in favour of reversing the recent FCC order which would end net neutrality.
Net neutrality, which is the legal the requirement placed on ISPs and telecoms companies to stop them discriminating against some websites and speeding up others, for commercial purposes. It essentially ensures that websites are all competing on a level playing field.
But ISPs and telecoms companies want to do away with these regulations to increase profits and they have the support of many Republicans. Crucially they also have the backing of Ajit Pai, the Chairman of the FCC (and former employee of Verizon) who has forced through an order scrapping net neutrality.
Democrats trying to salvage net neutrality
But now politicians are taking a stand to try and stop Pai’s FCC from killing off net neutrality. The vote came after Democrats on the Senate used powers granted to them under the Congressional Review Act. These powers allow the legislative branch to overturn orders put in place by Federal Agencies such as the FCC.
They needed the support of just 30 Senator’s to bring a vote on the issue and that was easily achieved. Every Democrat in the Senate supported the Bill to restore Net Neutrality in the vote.
And with three Republican Senators (Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) also backing the motion, it was passed by 52 votes to 47.
But, there are a few more hurdles for net neutrality to get over before it is saved yet. The Bill will now move on to the House of Representatives, where the Democrats face a much bigger task to win a vote.
In Congress, just to secure a vote using the Congressional Review Act, Democrats need to secure signatures from a simple majority of members. To win that vote, they will then need to persuade 25 Republicans to vote with them on the issue.
And even if that happens, the Bill would have to be signed off by President Donald Trump before it became law and net neutrality was saved.
Net neutrality not safe yet
This seems like a very tall order, not least given the huge amount of resources US telecoms companies and their lobbies are throwing at defeating the motion. Despite the huge weight of evidence and expert opinion to the contrary, they continue to argue that self-regulation is the best way forward.
Opponents counter this argument by highlighting how these companies already use techniques such as throttling and data prioritisation to slow down and speed up access to certain sites to suit their commercial needs.
As one Senator, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, put it during yesterday’s debate, “Net neutrality is the free speech issue of our time.”
He is absolutely right, and it is encouraging for US citizens to see politicians willing to stand up against the corporate lobbyists and do the right thing. The likelihood is that their efforts will ultimately end in failure, however, as even if this bill does get through Congress, President Trump is highly unlikely to sign it.
How to protect your own net neutrality
For internet users who want to access the internet without the ISPs interference, that means they will most likely have to take matters into their own hands until such time as the Democrats wrest control of the FCC back.
The best tool to use to do this is a VPN. VPNs can help to restore Net Neutrality for US internet users by encrypting your online activity. This means that even your ISP or telecoms provider cannot see what you are doing online.
And if they cannot see which sites you are visiting, they cannot throttle or speed up your connection to suit their commercial needs.
The US has seen a big spike in VPN use since the FCC’s initial vote to scrap net neutrality. This is no coincidence and it seems likely that if Democrats efforts to save net neutrality fails, US VPN use will jump once again.