Dems come out swinging on net neutrality

Democrats on Tuesday vowed to stand firm against any efforts by Republicans to roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality rules.

“The big broadband barons and their Republican allies want to turn back the clock and make big cable and big cellphone companies the gatekeepers for internet access,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said at a press conference in the Capitol.

“They have a new FCC chairman in Ajit Pai who will do their bidding.”

Supporters of the internet rules, which require broadband providers to treat all traffic the same, are worried net neutrality could be on the chopping block under a GOP-controlled Congress and FCC.

{mosads}Pai has said he wants to revisit the rules, and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said congressional Republicans are prepared to try again at a legislative fix that could pare back the rules. Thune has said he would like to work with Democrats on addressing concerns about net neutrality.

Democrats on Tuesday said they would reject any efforts to undercut the rules.

“I will oppose any legislative efforts to weaken the net neutrality order,” Markey added.

Markey didn’t say if he would be willing to work with Republicans on a compromise. And he added that did not know of any offers from Republicans.

But some Democrats may be willing to work with Republicans on changes to the rules.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who sits on the Commerce Committee along with Markey, told The Hill in late January that he would open to a deal on net neutrality. 

“The Commerce Committee and the FCC have been islands of nonpartisanship over the years and only recently have there been so many party-line votes,” Schatz said. “So perhaps Chairman Pai can get back to a place where the FCC does the work of trying to arrive at compromises.”

Schatz at the time also warned that if Republicans attempt to change the rules on their own, Dems would “dig in” and “fight accordingly.”

Democrats on Tuesday expressed confidence that the public would side with them in any new fight over net neutrality.

“You’ve got Senate Democrats who understand how important this issue is,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “If it comes down to the citizens and the people at the grassroots against the special interests, we’ve shown we can win that.

“I’m looking forward to that fight again,” he added, noting the millions of comments filed in support of net neutrality in 2014.

A spokeswoman for Thune pointed to a speech the chairman made last month calling for “clear and reasonable rules” governing the internet, which he says is best achieved through bipartisan legislation, in response to the Dems’ press conference.

“I have worked with my colleagues over the last two years to find a legislative solution, and while we haven’t gotten there yet, I remain committed to the cause,” Thune said at the State of the Net Conference in January.

“Who knows, the reality of a Republican FCC may help inspire some of my Democrat colleagues to embrace the idea that a bipartisan, legislative solution is the best possible outcome.”

Groups outside of Capitol Hill also urged lawmakers from both parties to work together on any changes to the rules.

“Without new Congressional legislation, the FCC’s net neutrality rules will keep swinging like a pendulum with every presidential election,” said Tech Knowledge, a group favoring free markets and deregulation.

“We urge members of Congress from both parties to put an end to back-and-forth regulation,” added LGBT Tech.

Diane Smith, the interim chairwoman of Mobile Future, a trade group representing mobile communications’ companies, though, criticized the heated nature of the fight.

“The constant partisan tug of war on the issue of broadband classification is bad for consumers and America’s mobile leadership,” she said. “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.” 

This story was updated at 5:12 p.m.

Harper Neidig contributed.

Tags Ed Markey John Thune Ron Wyden

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