Democrats revive the fight for net neutrality in Congress

Democrats in Congress have introduced legislation that would classify broadband internet access as a telecommunications service, giving the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the authority to reinstate net neutrality protections.

Senators Edward J. Markey and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are sponsoring the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act along with a companion bill in the House introduced by Representative Doris Matsui, to regulate internet services under Title II of the Communications Act as utilities.

“Net neutrality means that would ISPs are required to treat all internet traffic the same, so corporations cannot create a slow lane on the information highway that would prohibit some users from getting through to a worldwide audience,” said net neutrality advocate Lisa McCormick. “Restoring the FCC’s authority is a vital reversal of a corrupt corporate giveaway executed during the Trump administration.”

This graphic shows how the absence of net neutrality can allow ISPs to create a ‘slow lane’ on the information highway that hinders freedom of speech and creates opportunities for unfair competition among businesses and civic advocates.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the present need to promote an accessible and just broadband future, with students having spent upwards of two years studying online, entrepreneurs creating new businesses through remote work, and patients receiving the care they need through telemedicine services.

In the wake of Congress’ historic investment in broadband deployment, the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act would give the FCC the authority it needs to prohibit discriminatory practices like blocking, throttling and paid prioritization online.

It would also provide the FCC with ability to enact effective broadband policies that enhance public safety, increase accessibility, close the digital divide, and protect consumers.

“The Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act reflects the undeniable fact that today, broadband is not a luxury. It is essential. That means the potential harms that internet users face without strong net neutrality protections and without the FCC able to exercise its proper authority are more sweeping than ever,” said Markey. “My legislation would reverse the damaging approach adopted by the Trump FCC, which left broadband access unregulated and consumers unprotected. It would give the FCC the tools it needs to protect the free and open internet, creating a just broadband future for everyone in our country. I thank my partners for their support for this critical legislation.”

“For anyone who wants more innovation, more voices and less corporate control of the internet, net neutrality is an absolute no-brainer,” said Wyden. “I wrote the first Senate net neutrality bill to protect the open internet, where bits are bits and no one has to pay extra for digital toll roads just to learn, shop or get health care online. Oregon and other states have stepped up in the wake of the Trump administration’s damaging actions.”

“The 21st century economy relies on a free and open internet – providing innovators and consumers with access to vital services and information,” said Matsui. “Trump-era deregulation has left the internet landscape without comprehensive consumer protections, allowing discriminatory practices that leave everyday Americans facing the consequences. For the online ecosystem to remain a dynamic engine of innovation, we need clear rules of the road that prevent internet service providers from blocking, slowing and prioritizing web traffic. This bill will give the FCC the power to adapt to the ever-changing marketplace, defend equitable access and promote free expression and innovation online.”

“Repealing net neutrality was like allowing the phone company to decide who you can talk to,” said New Jersey progressive activist Lisa McCormick. “Net neutrality is not a fight among different kinds of businesses, it is about stopping an effort to rob the public that actually owns the Internet. It is imperative that we restore net neutrality & strengthen it in a way that it cannot be dismantled.”

McCormick has long been an ardent advocate of net neutrality, along with Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and many others.

“A free and open internet is vital to our innovation economy. Washington state is home to the fifth highest share of remote workers in the country, as well as the single highest concentration of workers in the tech sector. These jobs hinge on reliable connectivity,” said Cantwell. “This bill would increase competition, protect consumers and ban broadband providers from arbitrarily slowing down service, ensuring that everyone can access this great equalizer.”

“The pandemic made clear internet access is no longer a luxury, but a necessity—and that consumers don’t just need broadband, they need to be able to hold their providers to account. After all, everyone should be able to go where they want and do what they want online without their broadband provider making choices for them,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “I support Net Neutrality because it fosters this openness and accountability. While I trust the FCC has the authority it needs to adopt Net Neutrality rules, legislation that helps ensure it is the law of the land is welcome.”

“I have previously stated that the FCC’s 2015 Net Neutrality rules were the right approach. That approach is undergirded by a voluminous record and overwhelming public support, and it has been tested in court. The Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act would codify just that,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “COVID and the last few years have proven that broadband is essential for the 21st century. This legislation is a necessary step that will provide certainty to consumers and broadband providers, and allow everyone to move forward. It has my strong support.”

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