With President Obama’s legacy quickly being eroded, regulating the internet is one of the few holdouts that progressives are struggling to hold on to.
This week Senate Democrats came out swinging against the new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who is an opponent of misleadingly named net neutrality rules. Supporters of internet regulation worry that under Pai the rules would be on the chopping block. Their fear that a Republican-controlled FCC, along with a Republican-led Congress, spells trouble for their cause and they’re toting out over-the-top rhetoric to draw a line in the sand:
“The big broadband barons and their Republican allies want to turn back the clock and make big cable and big cellphone companies the gatekeepers for internet access,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said at a press conference in the Capitol.
“They have a new FCC chairman in Ajit Pai who will do their bidding.”
Markey and his colleagues think that they can fire up millions of citizens in a new fight over internet regulations. They point to the commenting period for the net neutrality rules as evidence that the public is on their side.
"Remember that two years ago, nearly 4 million Americans offered comments on the Open Internet Order," Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said at a press conference this morning (video). "That’s by far, by a factor of at least two, more than any comments on any rule before the FCC in history."
Stopping the assault on net neutrality rules won't be easy, said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). "This is another one where early on it’s going to feel like we’re really pushing the rock up the hill, but if it comes down to the citizens and people at the grassroots against the special interests, we can win that," Wyden said. "I’m looking forward to that fight."
As my colleague Charlotte discusses, net neutrality is a nice term that seems to imply something it is not. Under rules passed last year, the federal government reclassified the internet as a public utility like telephones or electricity and can now regulate aspects such as pricing. Proponents say it ensures that internet providers can’t charge customers differently based upon usage. However, allowing providers to charge customers for faster service is something government does all the time such as speed lanes on some highways. The impact of these rules is already being felt as companies are scaling back on investing in faster internet upgrades and expansions.
Never mind all of that. Senate Democrats are trying to stay relevant and will use this internet fight to try to do so. Chairman Pai remains committed to keeping the internet open and free. He has his hands full with this fight, but there’s plenty of support from Congress and Americans to ensure that the freedom we enjoy online is not reined in by Washington.