WASHINGTON – Democratic members of Congress argued today that the repeal of the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules would just help Internet service providers like Verizon and AT&T make greater profits.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said that eliminating the rules would give ISPs the ability to offer a wider variety of Internet-based products and services to consumers.
The FCC commissioners voted 3-2 today to repeal the net neutrality rules, which had prohibited ISPs from blocking certain content or charging consumers additional fees to access premium content.
“Perhaps certain companies support saddling broadband providers with heavy-handed regulations because those rules work to their economic advantage. I don’t blame them for taking that position. And I’m not saying that these same rules should be slapped on them, too,” Pai said in a statement. “What I am saying is that the government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers in the Internet economy. We should have a level playing field and let consumers decide who prevails.”
Under net neutrality regulations, broadband providers could not “deliberately target some lawful internet traffic to be delivered to users more slowly than other traffic” or “favor some internet traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind.”
Internet service providers were also “banned from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates,” according to the FCC.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) pledged to file an amicus brief and take the fight to preserve net neutrality rules as high as the Supreme Court. Markey said Democrats should make net neutrality an issue in the 2018 midterm elections.
“I am going to file an amicus brief in the federal courts with [Congresswoman] Anna Eshoo to make sure that we take this fight to the courts and all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States if that is necessary. I am going to file a Congressional Review Act to make sure the Congress has to vote on whether or not net neutrality rules are changed in the United States Congress. We must make these people accountable,” Markey said during a rally today outside of the FCC’s headquarters ahead of the repeal vote.
“We must make sure we stand up for the little entrepreneur, for the smallest voice in our country because on every part of net neutrality there is one thing that separates the people here from the people on the FCC who are going to repeal these rules: we are right and they are wrong,” he added.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) questioned why the U.S. government would want to allow service providers to have the “power” to “throttle” speeds and block certain content.
“There is only one reason for that and it is because they want to make more money – that’s all that this is about, and it is not right and we are going to fight,” she said.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) predicted that Internet service providers would eventually charge consumers extra for downloading videos or using certain websites and applications.
“They want to turn the Internet into cable [TV]. They want people to pay for every subscription and every application, and that’s just not what’s in the interest of ordinary Americans,” he said.
Khanna said Americans pay more on average for Internet service than countries such as France because “there’s a monopoly” of four companies in the U.S.
“Do you believe these four monopolies deserve more money and should have more profits and people should pay more? Or do you think people should still pay a decent fair price? That’s what this whole debate is about,” he said.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said Republicans think Internet service providers will reinvest their “monopoly profits” to provide opportunities for people.
“Now when has that ever happened?” Ellison said. “No, they are doing this so they can reap more monopoly profits, so they can buy more political influence, so they can give themselves more bonuses, so they can create more mergers so they can get rid of more jobs. It is to screw the American people.”
Ellison encouraged net neutrality supporters to continue demanding that the rules stay in place.
“These are our airwaves. The Internet was started on the public dollar and the Internet should be open to the public,” he said. “And I’m telling you right now that if we mobilize ourselves and we organize right here and all over this country, if we never stop fighting, we will win this victory.”
Khanna doubted that Internet providers would use their profits to “expand access” to the Internet.
“That’s their argument. I mean, who thinks that giving more profits to AT&T, Time Warner and Comcast and Charter is going to result in them putting more Internet access in the inner cities and rural America? It’s laughable. It’s laughable. We could get the entire country wired for $80 billion and have a program like FDR had with electrification in rural communities – that’s how you access the Internet,” he said.
Khanna said the Internet is the “one place” that has not been “corrupted” by special interests yet.
“Congress has been corrupted. The media has had undue influence. Every other place there has been corruption and special interests. We need to keep the Internet free. We need to keep the Internet a place that is not corrupted by these four companies that care simply about their profits,” he said.
By repealing the rules, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said the FCC is “handing the Internet over” to the largest ISPs.
“The Internet belongs to us, so we are up for this battle,” she said at the rally. “And we are going to win this battle and we’re going to win it in court, so keep the faith everyone.”