Udall joins Senate group seeking to guard net neutrality from budget attack

No one loved the internet rules written by the Federal Communications Commission last year that sought to safeguard the free-flowing egalitarian quality of the internet, where communication-industry giants don’t get to decide which information streams to users and at what speed. One side thought the rules were overreaching socialism and the other thought they were riven with the kind of loopholes corporate interests could wiggle through when it came time to assert control. In the spring, Republicans in the House opposed to the rules voted to strip the FCC of the cash it would need to enforce the rules. On Wednesday, a small band of senators, including Colorado’s Mark Udall, sent a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) objecting to the House action and asking the committee to strip out the budget amendment that would hold back the FCC funds.

“The… network neutrality rules are built on principles everyone should support – promoting transparency of broadband service operations; preventing blocking of legal content and websites; and prohibiting discrimination of individuals, applications, and other websites,” the senators wrote. “Some members of Congress have decided that they know better what is good for the Internet than the people who use, fund, and work on it. We side with the agency of expertise and supporters of the rule and urge you to reject any proposals that will prevent the FCC from implementing or enforcing its net neutrality rules.”

Joel Kelsey, a spokesman for Free Press, a media watchdog group that supports net neutrality, decried the “defunding” budget amendment strategy and applauded the group of senators who opposed it.

“This amendment is a poorly disguised play to hijack the budget process in order to prolong a political grudge against the FCC. We hope the Appropriations Committee heeds the advice of the senators on this letter and leaves this amendment where it belongs – on the cutting room floor.”

The letter:

June 29, 2011

Dear Chairman Inouye and Ranking Member Cochran:

The House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee has included language in its funding bill for 2012 barring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from using any funds to put into effect the Open Internet rules it approved last year. We write to you to renew our objection as a matter of both policy and process to any similar effort in the Senate.

Congress created the FCC in 1934 and reaffirmed in 1996 that the agency’s mandate is to provide all Americans with fair and equitable access to communications over wire and airwaves.

Consistent with those values and that mandate, the FCC approved an order to establish network neutrality ground rules for our nation’s broadband infrastructure. Those rules, which are in the public interest, establish guidelines for how telephone and cable companies can treat information that travels over their wires and connects Americans to the Internet and each other.

The final network neutrality rules are built on principles everyone should support – promoting transparency of broadband service operations; preventing blocking of legal content and websites; and prohibiting discrimination of individuals, applications, and other websites. In the wake of the order, a host of companies, venture capitalists, and hundreds of thousands of users of the Internet expressed their approval. Opponents of the rule predicted that we would see a decline in investment in broadband infrastructure because of the agency’s defense of the open Internet. In the intervening months, investment in infrastructure has continued to grow and innovative firms are developing and providing services over the Internet free from discrimination. The predictions of opponents have fallen flat.

Some members of Congress have decided that they know better what is good for the Internet than the people who use, fund, and work on it. We side with the agency of expertise and supporters of the rule and urge you to reject any proposals that will prevent the FCC from implementing or enforcing its net neutrality rules.

Sincerely,

John Kerry
Jay Rockefeller
Al Franken
Maria Cantwell
Tom Udall
Richard Blumenthal
Mark Udall
Ron Wyden
Bernard Sanders
Mark Begich

Although it seems to be at a crucial stage as more and more media moves to the web and as broadband access expands to the last corners of the country, the battle over net neutrality and how it will be enforced is sure to continue for years.

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