Senators Say Loss Of Net Neutrality Will “Unleash A Political Firestorm”

Image courtesy of Steve

There’s nothing subtle about the writing on the wall: New FCC chair Ajit Pai openly despises and wants to do away with the 2015 Open Internet Order, which reclassified broadband as a utility-like service, and cemented the “net neutrality” rules. However, some lawmakers and consumer advocates have made it known that they aren’t ready to give up these recently earned protections.

In a press event streamed live on YouTube and Facebook today, five Senators — led by Ed Markey of Massachusetts — promised a battle if Pai and the new-look FCC try to undo the neutrality rules.

Pai has said in the past that he believes the FCC needs to “fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation.”

Despite the fact that net neutrality appears not to have halted the entire American internet economy in its tracks (money still flows), it’s at the top of Pai’s list of economy-killers. Under his leadership, the Commission has already stopped investigating whether or not certain sponsored data plans violate the net neutrality principles, and industry foes have already started quietly building legal arguments for why the FCC should re-open and revise its position on the matter.

Sen. Markey, however — joined by senators Al Franken (MN), Patrick Leahy (VT), Ron Wyden (OR), and Richard Blumenthal (CT) — made it clear that he thinks the Commission should leave well enough alone, for everyone’s sake.

“There is a very strong regime which is in place in order to deal with this issue,” Markey said. “I think that the FCC correctly decided that net neutrality belongs under a Title II classification, and that was upheld by the Circuit Court of Appeals.”

“I think we all agree up here that we cannot support anything that would weaken or undermine the existing rules,” Markey continued.

“There is now an Open Internet Order,” Blumenthal similarly said. “There is an order. It says no blocking, no throttling, no content provider paid prioritization for anbyody seeking access … we need to preserve that rule.”

“I hope that our fears are unfoudned,” Blumenthal continued, “but certainly the indications are, we’re in for a fight. And there’s so much at stake — not only the great economic success that an open internet provides, but also First Amendment expression rights. It’s a danger to free speech, to the core principles of our democracy” to consider gutting net neutrality.

All the senators, however, seemed primed for that fight — and expect that the public will join them.

“I think this is another issue where we’re starting the fight [and] it looks like we have to push the rock uphill,” Wyden said. “People on our side are starting to say, it’s not going to be doable!”

But, Wyden countered, consider the fight against PIPA and SOPA. You may remember one memorable day in 2012 when dozens of major websites and services went black to signal opposition to the bills, and asked visitors to call their representatives in opposition. It worked: both SOPA and PIPA quietly died in Congress a few days later.

In a political situation where millions of folks are protesting something volubly with Congress literally every day, getting the same kind of focused attention may be more challenging. “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy,” Wyden admitted, but there are members of the Senate “who understand how important this issue is.”

Markey, for his part, seemed optimistic that internet users will again be willing to rise up and be heard. “Congress is a stimulus-response institution,” he said, and there’s nothing quite like “millions of people responding.”

The record-smashing 3.9 million comments filed with the FCC when it debated net neutrality in 2014-2015 “[are] going to feel like prehistoric political time,” Markey said. If the Commission acts to reverse course, the public “will unleash a poltical firestorm [making] 4 million look like a minuscule number of people who care about it.”