Senate Democrats Declare War on Title II Rollback

Democratic senators took to YouTube and Facebook Tuesday to declare the fight is on for the future of the FCC's Title II-based Open Internet order and looked to rally public support to their cause.

In a Capitol Hill press conference, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), joined by various veteran net neutrality supporters, said they would fight any effort to weaken the rules by a new FCC or Congress.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai took some shots from the senators, who suggested he would be doing the bidding of monopolistic cable barons by unwinding the rules.

One of the key themes of the press conference was that it would take renewed public outcry to push back on the Republican effort to reverse the Title II reclassification of ISPs.

Markey pointed out that Congress was a "stimulus/response" body and that there was nothing like millions of people contacting it in support of the rules to stimulate it. Over four million people weighed in at the FCC on the Title II-based order, he pointed out, but said that would look minuscule compared to what was to come.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tried to rally the troops given the Trump Administration's support for unwinding the rules, Pai's opposition to them, and the fact that Congress was in Republican hands. He pointed to the SOPA/PIPA fight, in which something like 15 million people weighed in and helped defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), bills they saw as threats to online speech, a threat the senators said was also inherent in rolling back the net neutrality order.

Like that fight, he said, "early on it is going to feel like we are really pushing the rock up the hill. But if it comes down to the citizens, the grassroots against the special interests, we're looking forward to that fight again.

Also standing up for the fight and at the press conference were Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Markey would not comment on any talks about net neutrality legislation since there were no specifics as yet but suggested if it meant reversing Title II, it would not provide sufficient protections. "We cannot support anything that would weaken or undermine the existing rules."

He also said the FCC's broadband privacy protections, which are based in that Title II classification, needed to be preserved.

Markey swept the targeting of Title II, along with that of Obamacare, the EPA and immigration, as another Trump Administration attack on basic values, these being a free and open internet and free speech online.

Blumenthal said that what was at stake was not just the economic success that an open internet provides but also free speech. "Allowing an internet provider to block or discriminate against certain content providers is not only a threat to the continued success of American innovators and inventors, but a danger to free speech at a time when so many of our First Amendment rights are threatened."

There was more than one reference, veiled and unveiled, to Russian hacking, though the suggestion has also been that the Trump Administration is its own threat to speech rights given its attitude toward the press.

Blumenthal said he would fight as a member of the Commerce Committee.

Leahy said of the need to get the public mobilized: "The millions of comments the FCC got before, we've just got to them again."

Mobile Future, whose members include ISPs subject to the new rules, liked the idea of a legislative solution that would return to pre-Title II days.

"The constant partisan tug of war on the issue of broadband classification is bad for consumers and America's mobile leadership," said Diane Smith, interim chair of Mobile Future. "The time for overheated rhetoric is over; the American people deserve a permanent, bipartisan legislative solution that memorializes twenty years of successful light touch broadband 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.