Dems vow to keep net neutrality riders out of funding bill

Dems vow to keep net neutrality riders out of funding bill
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are warning Republicans that they will fight to keep budget riders to block net neutrality out of a government funding bill that must be passed by Dec. 11. 

Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyGreens slam Trump’s Interior Department pick Senate sends annual defense bill to Obama's desk Overnight Cybersecurity: Fed agency IT report cards | Senate Dems push for briefing on Russia hacks MORE (D-Mass.) even predicted during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday that President Obama would veto any omnibus bill in December that included provisions to block the Federal Communications Commission's new Internet regulations. 

"I think the president should veto it. I think the president will veto it," Markey said. "This is a central economic growth issue for his administration. When a rider is going to distort the marketplace in the United States in such a radical way, and on a signature issue of the Obama era, then I think it is very clear that the president will put up a veto threat against inclusion of that rider."

Gene Kimmelman, president of open-Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, said on the same call that there would be a "broad coalition to support a veto in that context."

Sen. Al FrankenAl FrankenOvernight Tech: AT&T, Time Warner CEOs defend merger before Congress | More tech execs join Trump team | Republican details path to undoing net neutrality Lawmakers grill AT&T, Time Warner execs on B merger Dems press Trump to keep Obama overtime rule MORE (D-Minn.), however, said Democrats will fight to make sure any rider does not make it that far.

"Our job is to prevent it from being in that bill," he said. 

It is unclear how hard Republicans will push the issue, with a number of other contentious issues on Congress's plate. But the GOP has included net neutrality riders in individual appropriations bills. 

"They have not said specifically, but our goal is to protect against its inclusion in an omnibus in December," Markey said. "That is our goal. We have enough comments from [Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)] and others to know that we have to be on high alert, because it is clearly in the mix of the major issues that they want to include."

Democrats and Republicans are at a standoff over funding levels in the appropriations process, preventing any individual appropriations bills from passing. Congress, which passed a continuing resolution to keep the government open at the end of September, will have to pass another one by Dec. 11. 

Republicans and Internet service providers — such as AT&T and Comcast — are almost universally against the net neutrality rules, which reclassify Internet service under stricter authority. The change gives regulators greater authority to make sure Internet service providers treat all Internet traffic equally — preventing them from slowing down or giving priority access to any website or app. 

"It is startling the lack of understanding among some members of Congress about what this is. Fortunately, 4 million Americans know what it is," Franken said, referencing the millions of comments the FCC received on the issue. 

Earlier this year, the House and Senate Appropriations committees included language in their Financial Service and General Government funding bills to prevent the FCC from regulating the rates that Internet providers charge customers. The House also included language to block the new regulations until an ongoing court battle is settled. 

Those bills passed committee votes but never reached the floor.