WASHINGTON — On Monday, the Washington Post reported that Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Ron Wyden of Oregon are gathering co-sponsors for legislation to protect the open and affordable internet. According to the report, Rep. Doris Matsui of California is slated to introduce similar legislation in the House.
The Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act would confirm the legal classification of broadband internet access service as a telecommunications service under the Communications Act, thereby affirming the Federal Communications Commission’s authority over the broadband industry.
The legislation would restore the FCC’s authority to ensure that internet access — essential during the pandemic — is universally available, resilient and affordable for everyone. It would restore the agency’s ability to craft Net Neutrality rules, and to prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking and throttling online content or giving any website or service priority over others. And the bill would give the FCC the authority it needs to stop providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from engaging in discriminatory practices that aren’t addressed in these specific rules.
In 2017, the Trump FCC abdicated the agency's responsibility to oversee the broadband sector when it repealed the Net Neutrality rules and classified ISPs as “information services,” a legal category that severely limits the Commission’s ability to stop industry abuses. The new bill’s reclassification of internet access as a telecommunications service would empower the FCC to promote affordability and accessibility online and to protect internet users and first responders from unreasonable network shutoffs, especially during times of emergency.
The bill’s announcement comes at a time when the Senate has stalled in its efforts to confirm Gigi Sohn, President Biden’s nominee to fill the fifth and final seat at the FCC. A relentless smear campaign orchestrated by industry lobbyists and right-wing operatives has obstructed Sohn’s confirmation, which would give the five-member commission the majority vote it needs to act on a range of crucial issues.
Free Press Action Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood said:
“The pandemic has shown how absolutely crucial internet access is, and this bill gives Congress the opportunity to catch up with that reality. High-speed internet access should be open and affordable to everyone in the nation, just as the Communications Act commands for all basic communications services. It’s just common sense for lawmakers to confirm the legal treatment of broadband as something that should be available to all — especially people in communities of color, rural regions and other underserved and overcharged areas — on just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms.
“While broadband-industry lobbyists and Beltway pundits tell lawmakers to think otherwise, this is not a partisan issue. Anyone who tells you internet users are better off when there's no oversight of cable and phone companies is just reciting AT&T’s tired talking points and ignoring the overwhelming support for these policies among Democratic, independent and Republican voters.
“Two-plus years of social distancing and shutdowns have shown just how important it is for internet access to be universally available, affordable, open, reliable and resilient. Reinstating the congressional framework the Trump FCC ditched would restore the successful status quo that promoted investment and improvements from all industry sectors, including ISPs, while giving internet users the protections they need and deserve.
“Congress should pass the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act and confirm Gigi Sohn to the FCC without further delay. We've gone 544 days into the Biden administration without a fully functional agency. It’s time for Senate leadership to end this senseless delay and get the agency back to full capacity.”