Democrats hope net neu­tral­ity is­sue will win votes this fall

Imperial Valley Press - - LOCAL & REGION -

WASH­ING­TON (AP) — Se­nate Democrats, joined by three Repub­li­cans, pushed through a mea­sure in­tended to re­vive Oba­maera in­ter­net rules that en­sured equal treat­ment for all web traf­fic, though op­po­si­tion in the House and the White House seems in­sur­mount­able.

Repub­li­cans on the short end of the 52-47 vote de­scribed the ef­fort to re­in­state “net neu­tral­ity” rules as “po­lit­i­cal the­ater” be­cause the GOP-con­trolled House is not ex­pected to take up the is­sue and the Se­nate’s mar­gin could not over­come a pres­i­den­tial veto.

Democrats, how­ever, were un­de­terred, say­ing their push would en­er­gize young vot­ers who are tech savvy and value un­fet­tered ac­cess to the in­ter­net. “This is a defin­ing vote. The most im­por­tant vote we’re go­ing to have in this gen­er­a­tion on the in­ter­net,” said Demo­cratic Sen. Ed­ward Markey of Mas­sachusetts, who spon­sored the mea­sure.

At is­sue are rules that the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion re­pealed in De­cem­ber that pre­vented providers such as AT&T, Com­cast and Ver­i­zon from in­ter­fer­ing with in­ter­net traf­fic and fa­vor­ing their own sites and apps. Crit- ics, in­clud­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, said over­reg­u­la­tion was sti­fling in­no­va­tion, and they backed the FCC’s move, which is still set to take ef­fect next month.

Markey said net neu­tral­ity has worked for the small­est voices and the largest, but he said in­ter­net ser­vice providers are try­ing to change the rules to ben­e­fit their in­ter­ests.

Repub­li­cans said they were will­ing to work with Democrats on en­shrin­ing the prin­ci­ple of net neu­tral­ity in leg­is­la­tion. But they wanted to also en­sure that reg­u­la­tory ef­forts didn’t get in the way of in­no­va­tion and quickly evolv­ing in­ter­net ser­vices.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said the in­ter­net thrived long be­fore the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion stepped in with rules in 2015, and he pre­dicted that when the FCC re­peal is in place, con­sumers won’t no­tice a change in their ser­vice.

“That’s what we’re go­ing back to: rules that were in place for two decades un­der a light-touch reg­u­la­tory ap­proach that al­lowed the in­ter­net to ex­plode and pros­per and grow,” Thune said.

But the FCC’s move has stirred fears among con­sumer ad­vo­cates that cable and phone gi­ants will be free to block ac­cess to ser­vices they don’t like or set up “fast lanes” for pre­ferred ser­vices — in turn, rel­e­gat­ing ev­ery­one else to “slow lanes.”

Tech com­pa­nies have been sig­nal­ing that the re­peal of net neu­tral­ity could lead to sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial con­se­quences.

In its an­nual re­port filed in Jan­uary, Net­flix said the re­peal of net neu­tral­ity, and the pos­si­bil­ity that other “fa­vor­able laws” may change, could re­sult in “dis­crim­i­na­tory or anti-com­pet­i­tive prac­tices that could im­pede our growth, cause us to in­cur ad­di­tional ex­pense or oth­er­wise neg­a­tively af­fect our busi­ness.”

Other busi­nesses have echoed this state­ment. In Spo­tify’s pre-IPO fil­ing in Fe­bru­ary, the com­pany said laws lim­it­ing “in­ter­net neu­tral­ity” could “de­crease user de­mand for our ser­vice and in­crease our cost of do­ing busi­ness.

Sim­i­larly, Snapchat par­ent Snap said in Fe­bru­ary that adopt­ing laws that “ad­versely af­fect the growth, pop­u­lar­ity, or use of the in­ter­net, in­clud­ing laws gov­ern­ing in­ter­net neu­tral­ity, could de­crease the de­mand for our prod­ucts and in­crease our cost of do­ing busi­ness.”

A con­sor­tium of tech com­pa­nies from Etsy to IAC, which op­er­ates Tin­der and OKCupid, have banded to­gether to cre­ate a cam­paign called “Red Alert,” which sup­ports the con­gres­sional vote and other ef­forts to pre­serve net neu­tral­ity.

Join­ing all Demo­cratic sen­a­tors in vot­ing to re­verse the FCC’s ac­tion were GOP Sens. Su­san Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

In re­cent months, Repub­li­cans have used the tools made avail­able in the Con­gres­sional Re­view Act to over­turn sev­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal, health and safety rules put into place in the fi­nal months of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. This time, how­ever, it was Democrats who led the ef­fort to kill a rule sup­ported by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“This is our chance, our best chance to make sure the in­ter­net stays ac­ces­si­ble and af­ford­able to all Amer­i­cans,” said Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

“Net neu­tral­ity is what al­lows the in­ter­net to be a tool for free speech, per­mis­sion­less in­no­va­tion and di­verse voices on an infinite num­ber of web­sites,” said Chris Lewis, vice pres­i­dent at the ad­vo­cacy group Pub­lic Knowl­edge.

But the In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy and In­no­va­tion Foun­da­tion, a think tank, said Congress was tak­ing the wrong tack. In­stead of block­ing the FCC’s rule re­peal, it sug­gested that pol­i­cy­mak­ers work to­ward “bi­par­ti­san com­pro­mise leg­is­la­tion that will stand the test of time.”

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