Dems: Net Neutrality Will Be ‘Mammoth’ Midterm Issue

Senate democrats will force republicans to go on the record with their support of the Federal Communications Commission’s vote to roll back Title II classification of internet service providers, and Title II-backed prohibitions on blocking, throttling or paid prioritization.

The plan is to make that stance an issue in the coming midterm elections.

They made that point clear repeatedly in a Hill press conference led by Title II fan, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who was joined in a powerhouse lineup by, among others, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and ranking Commerce Committee member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

Markey announced he had over 40 Senate cosponsors, including moderate Maine Republican Susan Collins, for his Congressional Review Act resolution to nullify the rollback of 2015 FCC rules classifying internet access as a common carrier service under Title II of the Communications Act. He said he expects to introduce the measure in late spring or summer.

The timing will depend on when the rules go into effect — they must still be published in the Federal Register and vetted by the Office of Management and Budget.

If the rest of the Democrats vote for the CRA and Markey and company get one more Republican to go along, the FCC rule reversal could be changed back, although that still appears to be a long shot.

During the press conference, FCC chairman Ajit Pai and the Republican majority that approved the Restoring Internet Freedom order continued to be the subject of harsh rhetoric, accused of strangling speech and of being unfair and even un-American.

History in the Making

Senator after senator suggested the CRA would be a litmus test for the midterm elections, and that given the importance of the issue with the millennials who they said helped boost Democratic election fortunes in Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama, the Republicans should want to be on the “right side” of history.

Schumer said Pai had ripped the internet from the hands of those millennials and handed it to big companies, and Democrats would be making that point in the next elections, predicting net neutrality would be a “mammoth issue.”

Schumer also said he would use his power as minority leader to force that vote and hold Republicans to account. Nelson branded Pai’s Restoring Internet Freedom order as an “all-out” assault on consumers.

And while they were asked about a legislative compromise short of nullification, Markey and Nelson agreed the CRA was their near-term focus. They have said a Republican-backed compromise bill was a nonstarter.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee, said that while every member of Congress will say they support an open internet, the CRA will be a chance to “put up or shut up.” Schatz said Republicans had woken a sleeping giant.

The direct implication was that millennials were that sleeping giant, and could have a real impact on the elections and would not be placated by “bogus” compromise legislation.

(Photo via Rock1997Image taken on Jan. 18, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 16x9 aspect ratio.)

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.