Leahy: Net neutrality is online ‘Bill of Rights’

 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is raising pressure on regulators to keep Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites. 

"Like our country, which is protected by a Bill of Rights that guarantees our basic freedoms, the Internet needs concrete, fundamental protections to ensure that it is not abused by those with the power to do so," Leahy said in an op-ed published in the Huffington Post Tuesday. 

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Net neutrality protections "are the Bill of Rights for the online world," Leahy wrote.

"We should not allow an Internet that is divided into 'haves' and 'have-nots,' where those who can afford to pay drown out the voices of those who cannot.”

Leahy's committee has a field hearing on net neutrality scheduled for Tuesday. 

In the op-ed, Leahy touted a bill he introduced last month with Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) that would keep Internet providers from charging websites and online services for better access to consumers. 

"Pay-to-play arrangements would distort the open ecosystem that makes the Internet the unparalleled platform it is today," Leahy said. 

Leahy's bill and hearing come as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) attempts to rewrite its net neutrality rules, which forced Internet providers to treat all online traffic the same before being struck down by a federal court in January.

Earlier this year, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his proposal to rewrite the rules, including one option that could allow Internet providers to charge websites for better access to users.

The plan spurred a backlash from Democrats on Capitol Hill, including Leahy, who pushed Wheeler for strong net neutrality protections.

The agency is currently collecting comments on Wheeler's proposal. 

"The outcome of this debate will have a profound effect on small businesses, community voices, and consumers," Leahy wrote, repeating his calls for strong net neutrality rules to keep the Internet "free and open."

"Our actions in the United States send a message to other nations around the world. Let us stand for an open Internet where all may have their voices heard."