By Eitan Arom
March 25, 2015 at 6:06 pm ET
Senate Republicans are considering a budget amendment for tomorrow’s so-called vote-a-rama that would force lawmakers to take a position on the Federal Communication Commission’s ability to regulate the internet as a public utility.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in an interview that he may offer “an amendment dealing with the issue of net neutrality. But we’re still working through that.”
Vote-a-rama is a Senate session where an unlimited number of non-binding amendments are allowed to come to the floor for a vote, as long as they’re deemed germane to the budget resolution, S. Con. Res. 11. The amendments are often political in nature, designed to make a statement or force opponents to take a potentially unpopular stand.
A draft version of Thune’s FCC amendment says it would set aside a fund to “preserve and protect the open Internet in a manner that… protects against regulatory overreach, and does not rely on public utility regulation.”
Frederick Hill, Thune’s communications director on the Commerce Committee, said in an email today that the amendment would “underscore Congress’ continuing role and authority over our nation’s communication laws following the controversial regulations approved by the Federal Communications Commission.”
Thune has backed draft legislation that would enforce the principle of net neutrality – the idea that broadband providers can’t favor certain types of web content – while wresting authority away from the FCC.
Congressional Republicans such as Thune have accused the FCC of overstepping its authority last month in a 3-2 decision to classify the internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
Thune said the amendment, if offered, would seek to rebuke the FCC for acting irresponsibly in that decision. “That’d be kind of the general direction,” he said yesterday.
By referring to an “open internet” – a term used interchangeably with net neutrality – Thune’s amendment would seek to preserve much of the substance of the FCC’s February decision while reversing what Republicans see as a power grab by the commission.
This approach sets Thune apart from hard-liners in his party such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who have opposed the underlying concept of net neutrality. However, it is also lends itself to a bipartisan compromise Thune has advocated in the past.
A vote on the Thune amendment could take the temperature of which Democratic senators might side with Republicans if GOP lawmakers move forward with efforts to legislate the net neutrality debate.
Eitan Arom previously worked at Morning Consult as a reporter covering tech.