Net neutrality has been a contentious issue in the US since the early 1990s. This was made even more contentious when President Donald Trump and his administration set their sights on dismantling the policy. Net neutrality as we know it today was put into place under the Obama administration in 2015, which in and of itself gives you an overview of Democratic views on net neutrality. This is the policy that was subsequently ruled against and dismantled under the Trump administration in 2017. However, as early as the same day this vote took place, legal and political battle broke out surrounding net neutrality issues, with many threatening to open lawsuits about the unconstitutional nature of the FCC’s repeal of the policies.
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality means applying well-established “common carrier” rules to the internet in order to preserve its freedom and openness. In essence, this prohibits the owner of a network from discriminating against or otherwise manipulating information by halting, slowing, or tampering with the transfer of data. This means that network carrier cannot prioritize your receipt of information from a site that pays them more over that of a smaller site that doesn’t pay a bonus, or from an organization whose views don’t align with their own. To an extent, this keeps capitalism from interfering with the information we have access to online.
Democrats and the 2017 Net Neutrality Vote
Democratic views on net neutrality are generally positive. As the party that generally supports governmental controls when they prevent corporate interference with individual or small business rights, this is a prime example of the type of cause the Democratic Party supports. In general, Democrats feel that the repeal of net neutrality issues threatens internet freedom. While the Federal Communications Commission, which held the vote, had a Republican majority led by Chairman Ajit Pai, Democratic Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel worked hard to sway the vote.
Clyburn’s speech was incredibly passionate, stating, “I dissent. I dissent from this fiercely-spun, legally-lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling Destroying Internet Freedom Order.
“I dissent, because I am among the millions who is outraged. Outraged, because the FCC pulls its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers. Why are we witnessing such an unprecedented groundswell of public support, for keeping the 2015 net neutrality protections in place? Because the public can plainly see, that a soon-to-be-toothless FCC, is handing the keys to the Internet – the Internet, one of the most remarkable, empowering, enabling inventions of our lifetime – over to a handful of multi-billion dollar corporations. And if past is prologue, those very same broadband internet service providers, that the majority says you should trust to do right by you, will put profits and shareholder returns above, what is best for you.”
“Each of us raised our right hands when we were sworn in as FCC Commissioners, took an oath and promised to uphold our duties and responsibilities ‘to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination… a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.’ Today the FCC majority officially abandons that pledge and millions have taken note.” The speech continues to cite concerns by businesses and consumers alike, explaining the view that the only benefits of this repeal go to media giants such as AT&T and Verizon.
Rosenworcel states similar views and concerns, saying, “Net neutrality is internet freedom. I support that freedom. I dissent from this rash decision to roll back net neutrality rules. I dissent from the corrupt process that has brought us to this point. And I dissent from the contempt this agency has shown our citizens in pursuing this path today. This decision puts the Federal Communications Commission on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.
The future of the internet is the future of everything. That is because there is nothing in our commercial, social, and civic lives that has been untouched by its influence or unmoved by its power. And here in the United States our internet economy is the envy of the world. This is because it rests on a foundation of openness.”
Despite these strong statements, the vote to repeal net neutrality passed by 3-2, along party lines. This again demonstrates that the Democratic Party stands in support of this issue.
The Future of Net Neutrality
While the Democrats lost the 2017 vote, they are preparing for battle to protect the future of net neutrality. A group led by Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey formally introduced legislation in late February of 2017 that would the Restoring Internet Freedom order (the FCC order repealing the Obama administration’s net neutrality measures) via the Congressional Review Act. The Congressional Review act gives Congress the right to overturn agency regulations.
Their prospects in the Senate look very good – the resolution has 50 of the 51 votes needed to pass the chamber’s Republican majority, with all 49 members of the Democratic and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins backing the measure. The House side will be tougher to manage. The resolution would need the support of more than 100 lawmakers to pass. Even if supporters of net neutrality could manage that, the resolution would then face Donald Trump’s veto power.
However, the Democrats don’t necessarily need this resolution to pass to continue fighting. If it fails, they plan to continue to push the issue through 2018, turning it into a vital issue for all upcoming elections. Much of the Republican public does not stand behind its representatives on this issue, and Democrats are hoping to join forces with those individuals to incite a shift in power. They see this as one of many cases where Republicans are not on the side of the people. As Ed Markey said, “When we take on the Senate floor, every one of my Republican colleagues will have to answer this question: Who’s side are you on?” Markey said. “Do you stand with hard-working families for whom the internet is essential, or do you stand with the big money, corporate interests, and their army of lobbyists?”
- What Is Net Neutrality – ACLU
- Democratic FCC Commissioners Railed Against Net Neutrality Repeal. Read Their Statements – Forbes
- Democrats Unveil Plan to Save Net Neutrality – Gizmodo
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