Democrats Suggest Broadband Subsidies Be Used To Promote Net Neutrality

Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass., left) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)
Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass., l.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) (Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A pair of powerful Democratic senators has asked the Biden administration to use the $48 billion in broadband infrastructure spending overseen by the Department of Commerce‘s National Telecommunications & Information Administration as a way to restore net neutrality rules, at least for those government-funded network buildouts.

That's according to a letter to NTIA administrator Alan Davidson from Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-N.Y.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

The Federal Communications Commission, under Trump-era Republican chairman Ajit Pai, eliminated its rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization, plus a catch-all rule that would allow the FCC to regulate conduct that did not fall under the other rules but that it concluded might hurt an open internet. Current chair Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, would almost certainly like to restore those rules but lacks a majority, and Congress has been unable to agree on legislation establishing or defining the FCC‘s regulatory oversight of the internet.

In a letter advising Davidson on how to oversee that $48 billion, most of which is going to the states for their own projects, the two senators suggested NTIA‘s oversight of the money should include promoting “safeguards for the free and open internet.”

Blumenthal and Markey want NTIA to “implement measures that promote net neutrality as it fulfills its mandates under [the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act],” they said. The senators argue that such a set of neutrality principles were needed to “keep the internet open to all and free of discriminatory practices by powerful broadband providers” and to prevent those providers from “blocking or slowing down customers’ internet access; charging websites to reach users at quicker speeds; and instituting other unjust, unreasonable and discriminatory practices. These rules benefit consumers, promote free speech, and enrich the economy by making the internet a fair playing field where entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes can thrive.”

The senators did not explicitly advise NTIA to put net neutrality conditions on the money, but their signal was clear. Both Blumenthal and Markey have been vocal proponents of net neutrality rules. ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.