Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposes ending rules requiring internet service providers grant users equal access to online content.
Several members of Washington’s congressional delegation who have long worked on net neutrality oppose a plan the Federal Communications Commission’s chairman announced Tuesday to undo Obama administration-era rules ensuring equal access to the internet.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s plan would repeal rules passed in 2015 that bar internet service providers from throttling broadband speeds and favoring their own services if they wish. The rules became law after years of mostly partisan battles pitting consumer groups, tech companies and Democrats against the big internet service providers AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, and Republicans.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, who is on the Senate Commerce Committee, has been pushing for net neutrality for nearly her entire political career. She says Pai’s plan leaves the internet vulnerable to becoming a system where those who pay more get more.
“In repealing net neutrality rules, the FCC is creating a two-tiered internet,” Cantwell said. “It will allow corporations to pay for special internet access and leave slow lanes for innovators, small businesses, and consumers. Tearing down the free and open internet jeopardizes the access and innovation that have driven the internet economy to become a trillion-dollar economic powerhouse that employs millions of Americans.”
Both Reps. Suzan DelBenne, D-Medina, and Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, represent districts dominated by open internet supporters Microsoft and Amazon, as well as legions of tech workers.
“I believe in a free and open internet. FCC Chairman Pai’s proposal to fully repeal net neutrality and allow internet service providers to influence the content users can see is a loss for consumers and for innovation,” said DelBenne, whose 1st Congressional District runs from Redmond to the Canadian border.
Jayapal, who represents Seattle’s 7th Congressional District, recently spoke in favor of preserving net neutrality rules at a House Judicial Committee hearing.
“Can it be clearly said that companies that create and distribute content have a vested interest in insuring that their consumers have access to their products first?,” she said. “We need to dig deeper into the realities of a world where as of a few years ago, just 2011, 90 percent of the American media was controlled by just half a dozen companies. Compare that to 1983 when 90 percent was owned by 50 companies. And nationwide 62 million Americans in urban areas and 16 million in rural areas cannot access fast internet. And it’s a serious issue given how much the internet is ingrained in our lives.”
The current net neutrality rules were put in place after the FCC reclassified broadband as a public utility, allowing the commission to implement regulations without having to go through Congress. Republicans objected to this end around move, and many vowed to overturn the rules and the reclassification of broadband if a Republican became president.
“I have long said I opposed the heavy-handed approach the previous administration took in reclassifying the internet under Title II, and I applaud the commission’s effort to roll back these arbitrary rules,” said Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane. “The previous FCC upended decades of bipartisan consensus by ramming through a regulatory framework that discourages investment and slows innovation. Now more than ever, I believe it’s time for both sides of the aisle and the internet community to come together and find a legislative solution that protects consumers without disrupting the free flow of information or stifling innovation.”
Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, said Congress should be setting internet rules, not the FCC.
“Throughout my time in Congress, I have consistently supported the principle of net neutrality. To me this principle means Washingtonians and their families are free to make their own decisions when using the internet and not having their choices limited by the slowing down, degradation, or blocking of online content by outside groups” Reichert said. “As the FCC moves forward it is my hope that any action taken will preserve these protections for online consumers and keep the internet open, free from interference, and make sure it stays a source of innovation and job creation.”
Michael Beckerman, President and CEO of the Internet Association, a lobbying group that includes Amazon and Microsoft said, “Chairman Pai’s proposal, if implemented, represents the end of net neutrality as we know it and defies the will of millions of Americans who support the 2015 Open Internet Order. This proposal undoes nearly two decades of bipartisan agreement on baseline net neutrality principles that protect Americans’ ability to access the entire internet.”
The FCC plans to vote on the proposal Dec. 14.