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Three Democratic Senators Came Not to Bury the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules, But to Praise Them

Andrew Feinberg

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WASHINGTON, June 12, 2019 - A trio of Democratic senators on Tuesday called for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on legislation to roll back the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of network neutrality regulations put in place during the Obama administration.

Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., each took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to demand that McConnell, R-Ky., bring the Save the Internet Act to the floor for a vote. The Markey-authored legislation would turn back the regulatory clock to June 11, 2018, just as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's repeal of the Obama-era Open Internet regulations was taking effect.

"I rise today in defense of net neutrality. In April, the House of Representatives took an important step in passing the Save the Internet Act legislation that would...restore net neutrality protections," said Markey, who has been a strong proponent of rules to prevent broadband providers from blocking or throttling customers' internet traffic since his days representing Massachusetts in the House of Representatives.

Markey noted that the Senate passed a so-called "resolution of disapproval" last year to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the FCC's repeal of the Obama-era rules, but added that he was offering up the Save the Internet Act because the CRA is no longer an option.

"Unfortunately, our Republican colleague are failing to listen to the voices of their constituents and plan to block the vote from happening," he said.

"Let's be clear. Net Neutrality is just another way in which the Republican Party refuses to side with the ordinary people in our country."

Wyden echoes the high stakes involving in politicizing net neutrality

Wyden, who has frequently collaborated with Markey on network neutrality legislation, rose when his colleague had finished to echo the Massachusetts senator's call for action and explain the stakes.

"Net neutrality -- the free and open internet -- says that once you have access to the internet, you get to go where you want, when you want and how you want," Wyden said before noting that both he and Markey have been pushing for strong network neutrality protections for more than ten years.

Responding to critics of his bill who've said that the current FCC rules have not resulted in the far-reaching consequences predicted by network neutrality proponents, Wyden explained that the changes he and others fear are often slow in coming.

"Here’s the reality -- these changes that hurt consumers don’t come all at once, and that’s for a reason. Big cable companies count on making them in steady, creeping ways that go unnoticed -- it’s death by a thousand inconveniences," he said.

The Oregon senator offered as an example the recent proliferation of "unlimited" data plans "that totally throw away the definition of the word 'unlimited.'"

"To understand the complicated limits on internet access in these newfangled “unlimited” plans, you practically need a graduate degree in big-cable legal jargon," Wyden said. "Consumers might be forced to swallow hard and accept it, but that doesn’t make it acceptable."

Wyden also noted that the rise of mega-mergers between content providers and broadband network operators -- like the recent merger between Time-Warner and AT&T -- can threaten consumers by eroding competition, reducing the number of available choices, and giving rise to anti-competitive bundling deals in which network operators don't charge for access to one preferred content provider but do so for all others.

"That’s a bad deal for consumers who ought to be able to access what they want and when they want. It’s also a nightmare for startup companies who won’t be able to afford special treatment and won’t be able to compete with the big guys," he said.

Cantwell says that net neutrality rules are needed to protect jobs from internet companies

Cantwell, D-Wash., noted that strong network neutrality rules would protect the 15,000 internet companies which provide 377,000 jobs and make up one-fifth of the economy in her state.

"We know we have to fight back against companies who gouge consumers or suppress competition. And being one year since the FCC decided to turn back protections for the internet, we’re here today because we know that we’ve already seen the inklings of what is more to come," she said before adding that broadband provides are already "doing things that are slowing down or charging consumers more."

Network neutrality rules, Cantwell said, drew comments from more than 20,000 consumers who told the FCC to keep strong protections in place.

"They do not want to see large-scale companies overcharging or gouging them," she said.
Cantwell argued that strong network neutrality protections are good for the economy because they allow the internet to be a "great equalizer" that is "helping people from different backgrounds participate in our economy."

"But innovative businesses in every small town and every city need to have an internet that is going to give them access to create jobs and move their local economies forward," she added, warning that consolidation threatened the internet's record as an economic engine.

"Today, in the United States, three cable companies – just three cable companies – have control of internet access for 70 percent of Americans. And 80 percent of rural Americans still only have one choice for high-speed broadband in their homes and businesses," she said.

"So we’re not going to get likely competition where the consumer can just say 'You’re artificially slowing me down. You’re charging me too much. I’m just going to go to the competition.' That’s not likely to happen."

"That is why we need a strong FCC approach to protecting an open internet and saying that they shouldn’t block, they shouldn’t throttle, they shouldn’t manipulate internet access. And without these protections, big cable can move faster in charging more," Cantwell said.

"I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to say that it’s time to hold these companies accountable and put consumers ahead of these big cable profits."

(Photo of Sen. Ed Markey on the Senate floor on Tuesday.)

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