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Democrats promise to fight threats to kill net neutrality

Senate Democrats say they'll wage war to protect the open internet as a Republican FCC and Congress prepare to pick apart net neutrality rules adopted in 2015.

Senate Democrats say they'll fight to keep net neutrality rules in place.

CNET


Six Democrats in the Senate say the Trump administration will have a major fight on its hands if Republicans try to dismantle net neutrality protections.

At a press conference Tuesday, Ed Markey of Massachusetts led a group of senators that included Charles Schumer of New York, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Al Franken of Minnesota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont in supporting "strong net neutrality rules." The group said it will not allow action by the Federal Communications Commission or Congress that "undermines those rules."

"Despite what the cable companies and Republicans say about net neutrality, there is nothing broken that needs fixing," said Sen. Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Markey added that he'd oppose any regulatory efforts to repeal, or any refusal to enforce, existing rules, as well as any legislative efforts to roll back the rules. Schumer, who leads the Senate Democrats, promised "fierce resistance" if Republicans try to roll back protections.

The press conference comes as new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed by President Donald Trump, has promised to dismantle the current net neutrality regulation. Pai and Republicans in Congress have opposed the rules since they were adopted in 2015. Pai hasn't yet said how he'll weaken net neutrality regulations, but last week he closed an FCC net neutrality investigation into so-called zero rating plans, in which some services aren't counted as part of a monthly data cap.

Though Pai says he supports "a free and open internet," he says the current rules are too rigid, because they impose the same type of regulations applied to public utilities like the old telephone network.

"The Internet was free and open before the 2015 party-line vote imposing these Depression-Era regulations," the chairman's office said in a statement following the press conference Tuesday.

But Senate Democrats say the existing rules should be left alone.

"Our message is clear: the FCC's Net Neutrality rule is working," Schumer said in a statement. "It's protecting consumers and protecting the freedom of the open internet, and any attempt to roll back this rule and its protections would be foolish."

Net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally. This means your internet service provider can't block or slow down your access to any content. And it means these companies shouldn't favor their own content and services over their competitors' offerings.

Supporters of net neutrality say these rules protect consumers and ensure smaller companies can access the internet to develop cool new services and applications. Republicans along with internet service providers, like AT&T and Comcast, argue that the FCC's rules discourage investment in network infrastructure.

Markey said at the press conference that this argument is bogus. He noted that broadband service providers spent $76 billion to upgrade their networks in 2015, the second-highest total since 2001.

Senate Democrats said it will be a tough fight, with Republicans in control of the FCC and Congress. Wyden said it may feel like "we're pushing a rock uphill." But he said previous grassroots efforts, like the one in 2012 that defeated the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), have shown that the internet community can "beat the odds."

Markey added that judging by the more than 4 million people who weighed in with comments to the FCC in 2015 when the current net neutrality rules were being drafted, repealing these protections will unleash a "political firestorm" and make those figures look "minuscule" by comparison.

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