WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Wednesday narrowly advanced a Democratic-led attempt to retain net neutrality regulations, the first step in a long-shot bid to keep the online traffic rules on the federal books before their repeal takes effect in June.
The effort, which has built momentum in recent weeks, also is intended to elevate net neutrality as a political issue in the fall elections.
Supporters portrayed themselves as defenders of the rights of Americans to unfettered access to the internet by keeping protections in place that they said would prevent telecommunications companies from serving as gatekeepers for online content.
"This issue presents a stark contrast: Are you on the side of the large internet and cable companies, or are you on the side of the average American family," said Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
"This is our chance, our best chance, to make sure the internet stays accessible and affordable for all Americans," he said as the debate began.
But most Republicans opposed the effort, saying the regulations were potentially too onerous and Democrats were trying to use the issue for partisan gains in November.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., called it a "highly politicized campaign" that was filled with "fear-mongering hypotheticals, misdirection and outright false claims."
The measure, approved by a 52-47 vote, would void a decision made in December by the Republican majority of the Federal Communications Commission to scrap the regulations established in 2015 by the agency when Democrats controlled it during the Obama administration.
The repeal takes effect June 11.
All 47 Democrats voted to keep the rules in place. They were joined by the two independents who usually vote with them, Sens. Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, as well as three Republicans -- Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.