Senators urge FCC to abandon short-sighted plan to repeal net neutrality and jeopardize a free and open Internet for all

WASHINGTON, DC – With the Trump Administration gearing up to repeal net neutrality this week, U.S. Senator Jack Reed is urging the Administration to keep the Internet open, free, and with equal access for all. This week, Senator Reed joined 38 colleagues in sending a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai urging the agency to abandon plans to repeal net neutrality rules in favor of giving Internet providers the ability to freely block or slow down consumers’ access to the Internet. Reed says that doing so could negatively impact consumers, businesses, and our democracy by putting people who can’t pay for preferential treatment online at a disadvantage.

“Your plan gives a broadband provider the ability to significantly alter their subscribers’ Internet experience,” the Senators wrote. “Once adopted, this proposal will permit that provider to freely block, slow down or manipulate a consumer’s access to the Internet as long as it discloses those practices – no matter how anti-consumer – somewhere within mounds of legalese in a new ‘net neutrality’ policy. …It is a stunning regulatory overreach.”

The letter also highlights the inaccuracy of the Trump Administration’s claims that the move to repeal net neutrality would harken back to the supposed success of “light touch” regulation in the 1990s and early 2000s, and notes the entirely different and now central role the Internet plays in modern-day life.

“Over the past 20 years, Internet communications have become widely adopted and relied on by American homes and businesses,” the letter continues. “Yet, your plan ignores the central and critical role that access to a free and open Internet plays in Americans’ lives and the role that the nation’s expert communications agency should play with respect to the networks underlying that access. Moreover, your assertion that your plan returns Internet access to the way it was before is not correct. Even under the Bush-era FCC, the agency adopted open Internet principles and held out the threat of regulatory action to combat harmful activity. Your plan eradicates even that backstop and leaves Americans without a regulatory safety net.”

“The future of the Internet hangs in the balance,” the Senators continued. “The FCC’s responsibilities over the nation’s communications networks remain, and are more crucial than ever, as the Internet has become fundamental to every aspect of our society. On behalf of our constituents – and future generations of Americans – we urge you to abandon this radical and reckless plan to turn the FCC’s back on consumers and the future of the free and open Internet.”

In addition to Senator Reed, the letter was signed by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Edward Markey (D-MA), Angus King (I-ME), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Robert Casey (D-PA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tom Udall (D-NM), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Al Franken (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

Additionally, Senator Reed led another letter to the FCC today highlighting the detrimental effect a net neutrality repeal would have on America’s libraries and on those who depend on their local libraries for Internet access.

“Our nation’s 120,000 libraries depend on equitable and robust access to the Internet to provide a wide range of vital services to meet the needs of their respective communities,” the Senators wrote. “This is especially true in rural areas, where more than 83 percent of libraries report they serve as their community’s only provider of free Internet and computing services. Millions of Americans who do not have broadband access at home depend on the availability of Internet access at their local libraries. From helping with homework to searching for work and starting a small business to applying for jobs and government assistance and paying taxes—people come to libraries to fulfill essential functions of daily life.”

“A world in which this information may be limited to the Internet’s ‘slow lanes’ while other content generated by large corporations who can pay for preferential treatment undermines a central tenet of a democratic society,” the letter continues. “By and large, our public institutions cannot afford to pay for prioritized Internet access. Those who can pay will likely have their uses of the Internet prioritized ahead of education and other public interests, with significant negative consequences to communities across the nation.”

Other signers of the letter include Senators Leahy, Markey, Gillibrand, Whitehouse, Baldwin, Brown, Warren, Blumenthal, Wyden, Sanders, Hirono, Cortez-Masto, and Van Hollen.

Yesterday, Senator Reed spoke on the Senate floor in defense of net neutrality, noting: “I urge my colleagues to join me in opposition to the FCC’s proposed dismantling of the net neutrality rules. It is important. It is important for our constituents. It is important for our small businesses. It is important for our future generations as they prepare for a very complicated and challenging world, and, for some of them, the only way to get access to the computer is the public library. The only access for a small business to the marketplace on the net is being able to afford to be on the net. That is all in jeopardy today. I hope we can stop these net neutrality rule appeals, and do it immediately.”