Internet defenders are raising alarm and warning against telecom-backed sabotage after several Democratic lawmakers signaled they would be willing to water down their party's net neutrality legislation in order to appease Republican objections.
"The message from net neutrality supporters and the grassroots has been simple: pass a clean bill out of committee to keep this a simple up or down vote on restoring strong net neutrality rules," Josh Tabish, a tech fellow at the digital rights group Fight for the Future, told Motherboard. "There's really no excuse. They have the votes to do this."
"It's hard to view this as anything other than foreshadowing for a backdoor effort to water down the bill or add ISP-approved loopholes."
—Josh Tabish, Fight for the Future
During a House Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) characterized the Save the Internet Act as a mere "opening offer" that is subject to bipartisan negotiation.
"We'll have a mark-up, so this bill's not just messaging," said Soto, who is a co-sponsor of the Save the Internet Act. "There will be an opportunity for amendments. I for one am open to amendments."
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.)—who has not co-sponsored the bill—expressed a similar sentiment, saying compromise with the Republican minority will be necessary for the legislation to pass the House.
If implemented, the Save the Internet Act would fully restore the net neutrality protections repealed by the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
In response to the Democratic lawmakers, the consumer advocacy group Demand Progress cited polling data showing broad bipartisan support for strong net neutrality rules and said Americans "want the real deal, not a watered-down fake version that caters to Big Cable."
— Demand Progress (@demandprogress) March 13, 2019
Tabish of Fight for the Future said it was "frustrating" to watch Democrats suggest they are willing to weaken the Save the Internet Act.
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"[I]t's hard to view this as anything other than foreshadowing for a backdoor effort to water down the bill or add ISP-approved loopholes," Tabish added.
On Twitter, Fight for the Future urged Americans to pressure their representatives to reject any efforts to weaken the Save the Internet Act.
"We don't care which party you're from: if you're helping Big Cable slowly poison net neutrality and the free and open internet, we're going to make sure everyone knows," the group declared. "Don't sell out to Big Cable—support the Save the Net Act, with no weakening amendments!"
POLITICO reporting makes it clear. These are the most important members of Congress to call right now to help save #NetNeutrality. Tell them to pass HR 1644 with NO amendments!
— Fight for the Future (@fightfortheftr) March 13, 2019
The effort to stop all amendments to the Save the Internet Act comes as a coalition of internet advocacy groups is pressuring the hundreds of members of Congress who have not signed on to the legislation. Net neutrality campaigners are giving lawmakers until Friday to co-sponsor the Save the Internet Act.
"If you choose to put the telecom giants ahead of your constituents, we will make sure that every single one of your constituents knows you sold them out for cable money," Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement directed at members of Congress. "You have until close of business on Friday, March 15th."