Senate Democrats say they’re ready to battle Republican-led threats to net neutrality

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Senator Al Franken said that net neutrality rules are the free speech issue of our time.

A group of six Senate Democrats said the Trump administration and new Republican-led FCC will face a big battle if the party moves forward with plans to scuttle net neutrality rules.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts led a panel of senators that included Charles Schumer of New York, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Al Franken of Minnesota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont to uphold "strong net neutrality rules."

The senators said they will not allow action by the FCC or Congress that "undermines those rules."

One of the main arguments that traditional large telcos and cable operators like AT&T and Comcast have against the current net neutrality rules is that they will inhibit network investment.

Markey dismissed those claims, citing how telcos and cable operators have spent billions to upgrade their networks to support a spate of new services and applications.

“In 2015, broadband providers invested $76 billion in infrastructure—the second highest in the last 10 years,” Markey said. “There is no problem that needs to be fixed.”

This group of Senators spoke out after the new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai set a goal to realign or overturn the net neutrality rules.

Pai voted in 2015 against passing the new net neutrality rules.

Specifically, Pai and fellow Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly want to find a way to undo (PDF) both claims of legal authority underlying the FCC’s net neutrality regulations: Title II and Section 706.

Driving new innovations

By having an open internet, the group pointed out that innovations from internet startups would not be able to exist without an open internet infrastructure.

Senator Al Franken recalled how YouTube, which was founded by a few entrepreneurs, changed how consumers consume video and audio content over the internet.

“Three guys over a pizza shop in San Mateo, California developed YouTube and were able to put it online at the same speed and people preferred it to Google Video,” Franken said. “A couple years later YouTube was bought by Google and that’s why you have YouTube, because people were able to sample it at the same speed.”

Franken said that net neutrality rules are the free speech issue of our time and taking them away “would be completely irresponsible.”

The spirit of innovation continues today in new emerging companies like VHX, a developer of an open distribution platform helps anyone, big or small, launch a successful streaming video network.

Jamie Wilkinson, co-founder/CEO of VHX, cited how having an open internet enables its customers to freely develop video content online.

“We only exist because of net neutrality, which we take for granted,” Wilkinson said. “The cable companies and telcos have to treat all traffic the same whether it comes from a big company or a small company and are not allowed to create fast lanes that my company and my customers would not be able to afford.”

Industry groups remain divided

Industry groups were unsurprisingly divided in their response to the panel of Senate Democrats.

Fred Campbell, director of Tech Knowledge, said in a statement that lawmakers have to come to some consensus to develop an agreement.

"Without new Congressional legislation, the FCC’s net neutrality rules will keep swinging like a pendulum with every presidential election,” Campbell said. “A lasting approach to net neutrality must come from the democratic process in Congress, not executive fiat.”

Jonathan Spalter, CEO and President of USTelecom, said that while it supports an open internet the group maintains that Title II is not the answer.

“Maintaining—and strengthening—our dynamic, ever-innovating and open internet is a vital national interest,” Spalter said in a statement. “But the FCC's previous action reclassifying the internet under clunky Title II telephone rules has turned back the clock away from the successful—and bipartisan—policies that produced over two decades of enormous growth and innovation that have brought so much progress for our citizens.”