Senate Dems Call For Swift FCC Action On Net Neutrality

A group of Senate Democrats and longtime fans of the FCC's network neutrality rules are pushing FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to come up with new regs that will pass court muster.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has pledged to introduce legislation to clarify the FCC's authority to regulate Internet access, but along with Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), he wants the FCC to act now with the authority the court said it already has.

In a letter to Wheeler, a copy of which was supplied to B&C/Multi, the senators said the court's ruling—it vacated the FCC's antiblocking and antidiscrimination rules—threatened innovation and a "neutral" platform.

They warned/advised Wheeler that whatever new rules he comes up with need to stand "on a strong legal footing."

Without rules, they said, ISPs "are prone" to act as gatekeepers, controlling, blocking and throttling content.

The senators were careful to leave Wheeler time to build that strong footing, while still encouraging him to move quickly. "We respect your desire to take a careful approach," they said. "The commission must hear from all stakeholders as it weighs how to correct the issues raised by the court."

In a separate statement, Franken said that back when the initial rules were adopted in 2010, he had worked with then FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and the Democratic commissioners who voted for the rules—Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps—to strengthen the original draft, viewing network neutrality as "the free speech issue of our time."

The FCC has been getting an earful informally, but has not opened a public docket seeking suggestions for its next step. Wheeler has said he will outline that approach "in the coming days."

Cable operators did not challenge the FCC's old rules. They were at the table along, apparently, with Franken, when the compromise rules were drafted. Their support was in part an effort to avoid classification of broadband service as a Title II service subject to mandatory access and other conditions, but they also argued the rules were simply mandating what cable operators were doing, or not doing, anyway.

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.