Murkowski cites rural needs in joining Senate Democrats on net neutrality vote

WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski sent a message to members of her own Republican Party on Wednesday by voting with Democrats on a provision to undo the Republican repeal of the Obama administration's net neutrality rules.

Murkowski and Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and John Kennedy of Louisiana joined Democrats in a 52-47 vote to undo the Federal Communication Commission's repeal order. Alaska's senior senator said she made it clear to her colleagues that she wants to see bipartisan action out of the Senate, and that she has an ax to grind for Alaska. Murkowski wants priority services for some of her rural and struggling constituents, she said.

Senate Democrats were attempting to overturn a decision by Trump administration federal regulators to allow internet providers to have control over the speed of service they offer to various websites, a deregulating move to undo Obama administration policy.

[Senate approves bipartisan resolution to restore FCC net neutrality rules]

For Murkowski, the vote was about sending a message that she is not happy with political fighting over substantive congressional policies, she said. Asked what solidified her vote Wednesday, she answered with one word: "Frustration."

"I'm not interested in the politics of the fundraising that goes on by being able to amp people up on net neutrality policy. I want to get to policy that is going to be consistent, that industry can count on, that communities can count on, that families can count on," Murkowski said. Now, policies just trade "back and forth" depending on which party runs the FCC, she said. "It's not helping folks in my state that have limited access in the first place."

"I voted to hopefully get beyond the politics of where we are with this, which is basically this see-saw back and forth between a Republican-led FCC and a Democrat-led FCC that doesn't lend any level of certainty to the process," Murkowski said to reporters after the vote on a walk from the Senate chamber to a secure briefing room.


The vote isn't likely to go anywhere. The Republican House of Representatives is unlikely to take it up.

"And I'm frustrated with where we are today, that we basically have moved forward a measure that the Democrats know probably isn't going to become law, because this president isn't going to sign it," Murkowski said.

"So we send yet another political message. When are we going to get down to the actual legislation that both sides profess that we need to have?" Murkowski asked.

When the Senate was voting on "cloture" — to move forward with debate on the Democrat-led legislation — Murkowski made herself known, suddenly, as a swing vote on the floor of the Senate. She was the last to vote after taking her time on the Senate floor, entertaining lobbying by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., against the measure, and Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Ed Markey, D-Mass.

[FCC votes to repeal net neutrality rules in a sweeping act of deregulation] 

Murkowski didn't have much favorable to say about the Democrats' effort, though she voted along with it. She called the Congressional Review Act vote — to repeal a regulation — a "blunt instrument" and said she has myriad issues with the FCC right now.

"I think both sides have been headed in a direction that is more politically motivated than trying to advance the policy," Murkowski said.

Murkowski said she wants to see open internet and make sure there's no ability for service providers to "throttle" service. But "I also want to make sure that there can be prioritization for certain critical services," she said.

Both Democrats and Republicans have said they are working on bipartisan legislation, Murkowski said. "Where is it?"

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan voted with his party, against the resolution to undo the FCC's December decision.

"I have consistently stated to Alaskans that I strongly support preserving a free and open internet – and believe that keeping the internet affordable and accessible to all consumers is an essential principle in internet governance," Sullivan said in a statement.

Though they voted differently, Sullivan and Murkowski had a similar message — "because there have been recent dramatic swings from the FCC on the issue, it is critical we develop a bipartisan legislative solution," Sullivan said.

He argued that the 2015 FCC order that the Trump administration repealed prevented expansion to many rural areas.

"Ultimately, today's vote was more political theater than a serious attempt at a bipartisan solution," Sullivan said. He pledged to work with his Senate colleagues to craft a law that "prohibits blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization of internet traffic while also encouraging innovation, promoting competition, helping spur rural broadband investment and deployment, and preserving and protecting the open internet."

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C.