Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to block the efforts of House Republicans to undermine a recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order that will take the first step towards keeping the Internet free and open. Last week, House Republicans passed a continuing resolution that included an amendment that would deny the FCC the funds required to enforce its net neutrality rules. These rules were designed to make it harder for broadband access providers to create an Internet fast lane, to block online video, or to direct consumers to programs and websites of their choice. Additionally, House and Senate Republicans have made it clear that they will pursue a resolution under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) that would kill the FCC's net neutrality rules. Sen. Franken was joined by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) in expressing his opposition to the House's measure.
"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," the senators wrote in their letter. "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. Telephone and cable companies do not own the Internet. But if the amendment the House passed is not struck or if their CRA effort is successful, they will."
Sen. Franken has been a vocal proponent of net neutrality since he first spoke out on the issue while questioning Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings in July 2009. In August of 2010, he delivered a speech at an event in Minneapolis hosted by the nonprofit organization Free Press, where he called net neutrality "the First Amendment issue of our time," which you can read here. Last year, Sen. Franken expressed his disappointment in the FCC's net neutrality rules, calling them inadequate, but urging the agency to enforce them vigorously as a first step. In January, Sens. Franken and Cantwell introduced the Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act of 2011, which would create strong net neutrality protections and which is available here.
The full text of the letter is shown below:
Dear Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:
We write to strongly object to the use of the appropriations process or the Congressional Review Act to keep the Federal Communication Commission from doing its job. The House has included an amendment to the continuing resolution to deny the agency funds for implementing a recent order to protect the open Internet. And they are talking about moving forward with a Congressional Review Act resolution to achieve the same end. We ask you to object to any similar effort here in the Senate. Such action aims to strip the FCC of its legal authority over modern communications and hand control of the Internet to owners of the wires that deliver information and services over them.
There are those who claim to oppose the order because Congress should write a new law to deal with Broadband communications instead. We are willing and interested in working with colleagues on modernization of the Communications Act. But that does not mean that the agency should stop doing its job under current law. And we challenge those opposing the order to produce an alternative framework. In the absence of doing so, we can only conclude the effort is intended to provide for a fully deregulated communications industry placing consumer, entrepreneurship on the Internet, and our basic freedom to communicate at risk.
For background, after more than a year of examination and deliberation, the FCC -- the agency created in 1934 and reaffirmed in 1996 to provide Americans with fair and equitable access to communications over wire and airwaves-- approved an order to establish network neutrality ground rules. Those rules, clearly in the public interest, lay down guidelines for how telephone and cable companies can treat information that travels over their wires and connects Americans to the Internet. It very clearly does not regulate that information any more so than the regulation of telephone service regulates what Americans can say to each other and whom they can call or not call.
The final network neutrality rules, the credit of Chairman Genachowski, are built on things everyone should support-- transparency of broadband service operations, no blocking of legal content and websites, and nondiscrimination against or for specific firms or people trying to communicate and compete over the Internet. In the wake of the order, the official investors of 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 expressed their approval.
Unfortunately, the House has decided it knows better what is good for the Internet than the people who use, fund and work on it. 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.
Telephone and cable companies do not own the Internet. But if the amendment the House passed is not struck or if their CRA effort is successful, they will.
John F. Kerry