Democrats called it a "defining vote" despite facing an uphill battle in the House and against the president. The effort seeks to restore laws that stopped internet companies from privileging certain websites.
The US Senate backed an effort to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality rules on Wednesday. In a 52-47 vote that saw three Republicans join Senate Democrats in approving a measure that prevents internet providers from favoring their own sites and apps.
The majority of Senate Republicans decried the vote as "political theater," considering the difficulties the bill faces in the House and against the presidential veto.
But the Democrats would not be deterred, with bill sponsor Edward Markey calling it "a defining vote. The most important vote we're going to have in this generation on the internet."
In December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rolled back a set of laws from 2015 that stopped internet companies like Comcast and Verizon from interfering with web traffic.
Critics had argued that the regulations were preventing innovations, and that the roll back was simply a return to how the internet had been governed before 2015.
"That's what we're going back to: Rules that were in place for two decades under a light-touch regulatory approach that allowed the internet to explode and prosper and grow," said Republican Seantor John Thune.
Fear of 'fast' and 'slow' lanes
Supporters of net neutrality have pointed out, however, that without the Obama administration rules, internet providers could easily create online "fast lanes" that privileged whatever content the company prefers and "slow lanes" for everything else.
Online companies like Netflix came out in support of net neutrality after the repeal, warning that it could result in "discriminatory or anti-competitive practices that could impede our growth, cause us to incur additional expense or otherwise negatively affect our business."
Music streaming service Spotify voiced similar concerns in February.
"This is our chance, our best chance to make sure the internet stays accessible and affordable to all Americans," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
es/rc (AP, AFP)