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The podium at a news conference in the Capitol on March 6, 2019. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With Open Internet Under Assault, 2020 Democrats Urged to Sign Pledge to Reject Telecom Cash and Restore Net Neutrality

"If net neutrality is not restored, the public will lose the ability to access sites, run small businesses, and tell the stories too often ignored by the mainstream media."

Jake Johnson

A diverse coalition of nearly 20 progressive advocacy groups launched a new campaign Monday urging 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to reject campaign cash from the telecommunications industry and commit to restoring net neutrality.

"It's not enough for candidates to simply say they support net neutrality."
—Mark Stanley, Demand Progress

The organizations are calling on all Democratic primary contenders to sign a pledge vowing to "publicly call for the restoration of strong open internet protections" and turn down "contributions from phone and cable company executives, lobbyists, and PACs."

The groups are also demanding that the Democratic presidential hopefuls vow to appoint Federal Communications Committee (FCC) commissioners who will:

  • Restore all of the Title II-based net neutrality rules, enforcement authority, broadband competition and consumer protections the FCC eliminated in 2017;
  • Enforce a ban on circumventing net neutrality at the point where data enters ISPs' networks; and
  • Ban harmful forms of 'zero-rating' that advantage some apps over others or require apps to pay fees.

Mark Stanley, communications director of advocacy group Demand Progress, said in a statement that paying lip service to net neutrality is not sufficient in the face of the Trump FCC's far-reaching assault on the open internet, which resulted in the total repeal of net neutrality protections in 2017.

"It's not enough for candidates to simply say they support net neutrality," said Stanley. "We're looking for specific commitments from candidates to appoint commissioners who will restore the Title II-based net neutrality protections repealed by the FCC, and who will close dangerous loopholes that allow ISPs to create fast lanes and unfairly privilege some apps over others."

"For too long, phone and cable companies have exerted an undue influence in Washington, by pushing unpopular policies that harm the American people's ability to communicate and access crucial services online," Stanley said. "It's time candidates fight this corrosive influence by refusing contributions from the telecom industry."

The campaign comes as a bill that would restore net neutrality protections, the Save the Internet Act, is stalled in the Senate. As Common Dreams reported in April, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled he would refuse to allow a vote on the Save the Internet Act after the legislation passed the Democrat-controlled House by a 232-190 margin.

"With Mitch McConnell stonewalling in the Senate, it's imperative all presidential candidates make restoring net neutrality a top priority," said the coalition of progressive advocacy groups, which includes Fight for the Future, Color of Change, Friends of the Earth Action, RootsAction.org, and more than a dozen others.

"Since the repeal of net neutrality, we've already seen internet providers begin to throttle online services," the groups said. "If net neutrality is not restored, the public will lose the ability to access sites, run small businesses, and tell the stories too often ignored by the mainstream media. Our ability to freely connect and communicate is at stake."

Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have vowed to push for the restoration of net neutrality if elected, but the issue has been neglected in the early stages of the primary process.

As AJ Dellinger wrote for Forbes last month, net neutrality did not come up once during any of the four Democratic presidential debates hosted by Comcast-owned MSNBC and AT&T-owned CNN.

Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement ahead of the second round of presidential debates last month that "Americans deserve to know whether these candidates will make it a top priority to restore net neutrality."

"The fact that AT&T owns CNN, and could easily pressure them to silence debate on net neutrality, is a perfect example of why we need a free and open Internet," said Greer. "It's essential for free speech and a democratic society."


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