Murkowksi breaks GOP ranks to join 52-47 vote to overturn net neutrality repeal

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks on the Senate floor during the debate on the GOP tax bill on Dec. 19, 2017.

Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and two other Republican senators joined all Senate Democrats to vote 52-47 in favor of overturning the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules.

The Congressional Review Act resolution would simply overturn the FCC’s pending June 11 repeal of existing net neutrality rules. The Obama-era regulations require internet service providers to treat all online content and traffic equally, preventing them from blocking, slowing down or prioritizing certain content.

Alaska’s Congressional Delegation has been relatively quiet about net neutrality since the FCC, under Chairman Ajit Pai, voted to undo the regulations. At the time, Murkowski said she would prefer legislation to address the issue, a position she reiterated in a video statement posted after today’s vote.

“Regulating the internet like a utility under a 1934 law is not the way to an open internet. I’ve never supported title 2 regulation, and I don’t support it today,” she said in the video. “What I do support is an open internet. I voted to pass this resolution today so that we can reset the discussion and move beyond the politics that are at play here to what is really needed, which is lasting legislation that will provide certainty and move us beyond these shifting regulatory standards that depend on who’s running the FCC.”

Republicans that joined Murkowski and the Senate Democrats were Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy. Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, who once called net neutrality “another outrageous power-grab” by Obama, voted against the resolution.

The resolution would still need to pass the solidly Republican House and be signed by President Trump, making it a long shot that the repeal is actually overturned.

Murkwoski’s statement continued to explain the importance of an open internet to Alaska and explained that she hoped her vote would help keep the door open for new legislation.

“My interest is always protecting and improving Alaska’s internet connectivity given our very unique circumstances. In Alaska at stake are rural health clinics and schools that rely on life-saving telemedicine services and access to educational resources,” she said. “I firmly believe that we must pass legislation that prevents harmful practices like blocking and throttling but also allows for exceptions to support the unique needs we have in Alaska. It’s time to stop trying to score political points. It’s time to work together to ensure an open internet with privacy protections for all consumers, and that’s what I’m calling on my colleagues to do.”

Alaska efforts

Fairbanks Rep. Scott Kawasaki, a Democrat, authored legislation that would have instituted a state-based version of net neutrality rules similar to what many other states are considering.

“Broadband internet is a modern-day necessity,” he wrote in a Jan. 18, 2019 letter to Gov. Bill Walker urging him to join a multi-state lawsuit against the FCC. “Powerful internet service providers do not need a handout when thousands of Alaskans lack basic internet access.”

Alaska’s two main broadband internet providers, GCI and Alaska Communications, both have publicly pledged to voluntarily follow the tenets of net neutrality. Kawasaki recognized that in his letter, but noted that he was concerned that pressure from larger internet service providers would still harm Alaskans access to the internet.

The legislation didn’t make it past the House Finance Committee.

Resolutions also calling on the Alaska delegation to support net neutrality were introduced during the recent legislative session, but none were approved.

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