Franken, Kerry lead charge to defend FCC's net neutrality rules in the Senate

Four Senate Democrats wrote to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday to oppose GOP efforts to defund net neutrality rules through spending legislation. 

The letter included Senate Commerce Communications subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). 

"Telephone and cable companies do not own the Internet. But if [the anti-neutrality effort] is successful, they will," the letter said. 

The spending bill that passed the House on Saturday included language to prevent the FCC from using funds to implement its controversial net neutrality rules, which it passed in December over strong objections from Republicans. 

"We ask you to object to any similar efforts here in the Senate. Such action aims to strip the FCC of its legal authority over modern communications and hand control of the Internet over to the owners of the wires that deliver information and services over them," the letter says. 

The four Democrats also oppose use of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to repeal the regulations, which is another House proposal.

They point to support for the FCC rules from "the original investors in Google and Netflix, the father of the Internet Tim Berners-Lee, a host of companies, venture capitalists, and hundreds of thousands of users of the Internet."

The signatories include the Senate's most ardent net neutrality advocates. Franken and Cantwell have written legislation to make the rules stronger. The aggressive language in the letter reflects that.

"Unfortunately, the House has decided that it knows better what is good for the Internet than the people who use, fund, and work on it," it says. "They claim to stand for freedom.  But the only freedom they are providing for is the freedom of telephone and cable companies to determine the future of the Internet, where you can go on it, what you can attach to it, and which services will win or lose on it."

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Analysts say defunding net neutrality through the continuing resolution may be difficult because Senate Democrats and President Obama support the rules. 

However, they also say it may have slightly better odds than repeal through the Congressional Review Act (CRA), because net neutrality is a lesser priority compared to top Democratic items such as healthcare. Advocates fear their priority could get lost in the mix. 

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), ranking member on the Commerce Committee, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), ranking member of the Communications subcommittee, and McConnell introduced a resolution of disapproval last week to repeal the rules through the CRA.

Reid on Tuesday said that Senate Democrats would not accept any of a number of riders attached to the CR by the House. 

"We're not going to resolve the issues of abortion, or net neutrality, or clean air on this CR," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters.

The House bill cuts $61 billion from 2010 levels, while Reid and Senate Democrats have said they will only accept much smaller cuts from current spending. If differences cannot be resolved, the government could shut down. 

- Erik Wasson contributed to this report.