Senate Democrats on Tuesday vowed not to let net neutrality be dismantled without a fight, and urged people to be aware of recent orders by the newly Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission (FCC) targeting internet equality.
The Open Internet Order, enacted in 2015, redefined the internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act in one of the FCC's most historic consumer protection moves. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), an outspoken supporter of net neutrality and consumer advocacy, organized a press conference to urge action against new FCC chairman Ajit Pai's moves to roll back those protections.
"We have to ensure that what the Republicans say about net neutrality is understood to be completely wrong," Markey said. "I will oppose any regulatory efforts...I will oppose any legislative efforts to weaken or undermine the Open Internet Order."
Watch the press conference below:
Pai has long opposed net neutrality rules and sided with corporations over consumers, but his power as a commissioner had been limited until former chair Tom Wheeler resigned at the end of President Barack Obama's term. Under President Donald Trump, Pai on Friday issued "delegated authority"—the commission's version of executive orders—bypassing the democratic process, to attack key protections and enable media consolidation.
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Those orders included blocking nine internet service providers (ISPs) from taking part in the FCC's Lifeline program, which provides internet access to low-income users, just weeks after the companies had been approved. Pai also dropped efforts to cap prison phone rates and break up big cable's hold on set-top boxes.
Now, advocates worry net neutrality writ-large is next on the chopping block.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) noted Tuesday that "two years ago, nearly 4 million Americans offered comments on the Open Internet Order. That's by far, by a factor of at least two, more than any comments on any rule before the FCC in history. We want to alert the American people that the FCC may be up to something that they don't want to happen."
"I've called net neutrality the free speech issue of our time," said Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), "because the principles of our democracy are at stake."
Although the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld net neutrality rules in June 2016, any attempts by Congress or the FCC to dismantle them will "unleash a political firestorm that will make the 4 million who communicated several years ago look like a minuscule number," Markey said.