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Cantwell: Protect Internet Freedom for Consumers

Cantwell urges colleagues to oppose Hutchison resolution that would stop FCC net neutrality rules from going into effect Cantwell: Resolution would allow telecom companies to ‘run wild on the Internet, charging consumers anything they want’ ***VIDEO AVAILABLE***

Wednesday, November 09,2011


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) vigorously defended the importance of Net Neutrality protections, calling attempts to weaken the Federal Communications Commission’s modest rules as a ‘hand out’ to the communications companies that want more control over the Internet and data speed rates so they can profit from it.

During remarks delivered on the Senate floor, Cantwell said that enactment of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s (R-TX) resolution would harm innovation and investment in the broadband Internet, which is integral to U.S. job creation and economic growth, education, civic engagement, and innovation. Hutchison’s resolution would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “open Internet rules” from taking effect. Click here to watch a video of Senator Cantwell delivering her remarks. High quality video available upon request.

“If you want to vote with Internet consumers and Internet users on driving down the cost of the Internet, then vote against this resolution and keep the minimal FCC rules in place…,” Cantwell said on the Senate floor today. “Why would we put up with allowing telcos to just run wild on the Internet, charging consumers anything that they want based on the fact that they think they have a control on the switch? ...We have work to do to make sure that the youth of America, who are consuming so much content online through their mobile devices, aren’t going to be artificially charged more or slowed down their access, all because the telecommunications industry wants to have its way with the Internet.”

“I can tell you the Internet has had a ton of innovation and a ton of content creation all because there has been an even playing field and net neutrality,” Cantwell continued in her remarks on the Senate floor today. “We should make sure that it [FCC open Internet rules]stands until we can even get stronger Internet freedom protection.”

In 2009, the FCC released its proposed rules on preserving the open Internet. These rules were finalized and released in December 2010. On December 21st, Cantwell issued a statement expressing her disappointment and concern that the rules “don’t do enough to make sure the Internet remains a source of American innovation and economic growth.”

One month later, on January 25th, 2011, Cantwell introduced the Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act of 2011 to ensure the broadband Internet continues to serve as a source of innovation, free speech, and job growth. U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) is an original cosponsor of the Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act. 

The Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act creates a new section in Title II of the Communications Act by codifying the six net neutrality principles in the FCC’s November 2009 Notice of Proposed Rule Making for preserving the open Internet. Additionally, the legislation prohibits broadband operators from requiring content, service, or application providers from paying for prioritized delivery of their Internet Protocol (IP) packets, also known as pay-for priority. The bill also calls for broadband providers to work with local, middle-mile providers on fair and reasonable terms and network management conditions. All of these obligations apply to all broadband Internet platforms, both wireline and wireless.

Cantwell’s legislation also takes several steps to promote the adoption of broadband, such as requiring broadband providers to provide service to an end-user upon reasonable request and requiring broadband providers to offer standalone broadband Internet access at reasonable rates, terms and conditions. The bill also tells the FCC that if it extends the Universal Service Fund (USF) to include broadband access, only those broadband providers offering standalone broadband Internet access service will be able to participate in the new broadband fund.

This legislation further increases consumer protection by requiring all charges, practices, classifications, and regulations related to broadband Internet access service meet a public interest “just and reasonable” standard. Currently, broadband Internet access falls under Title I of the Communications Act, making it unclear what protections consumers have. Cantwell’s legislation allows broadband service users who believe their broadband provider has violated their net neutrality obligations to file a complaint at either the FCC or a U.S. District Court (but not both). Additionally, State Attorneys General can file on behalf of its residents and seek either to enforce the act or to seek civil penalties.

“If we let telecom oligarchs control access to the Internet, consumers will lose,” said Senator Cantwell when her bill was introduced. “My bill returns the broadband cop back to the beat, and creates the same set of obligations regardless of how consumers get their broadband. …Without the strong protections provided by this bill, broadband Internet providers will likely favor their own or affiliated content, service, and applications because they have the economic incentives and technical means to do so. This could lead to a tiered Internet with premium fast lanes and slow lanes for the rest of us.”

Several organizations provided letters of support for Cantwell’s legislation. Free Press wrote, “[Cantwell’s] legislation provides a responsible long-term solution to the shortcomings of the Commission’s rules and is necessary to protect the Internet against the threats it faces.” Public Knowledge wrote, “Enacting [Cantwell’s] legislation into law or updating the FCC rules will ensure equal protection for all broadband consumers and would guarantee to all Americans that the Internet will remain open to competition, free speech, and innovation.” And Consumers Union wrote, “Your bill to preserve a free and open Internet provides certainty regarding the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to propose and adopt rules that will ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of affordable broadband and access to all devices and available content on the Internet.”

Cantwell is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the FCC and information and communications technology issues.  For more information on Senator Cantwell’s efforts to urge a bold net neutrality plan, see her December 1st statement on the FCC’s initial draft of the rules. Also see Cantwell’s December 10th letter she sent to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski urging the Commission to consider a number of specific changes to strengthen the final rules, and Cantwell’s letters to the Chairman on June 17, 2010 and October 21, 2009.

Cantwell’s complete remarks as delivered this afternoon are pasted below:

Thank you, Mr. President.

I thank my colleague, the Chairman of the Commerce Committee, for his leadership on this important issue. And I’m glad to be on the Senate floor to set the record straight because we are here to talk about Internet freedom. And about making sure that the Internet doesn’t have undo costs and expenses on consumers.

If you liked TARP, and you liked the bailout of the big banks, well, guess what? Then you should vote for this resolution because this resolution is about whether you are going to stop the communications companies who want to make the Internet more expensive by various techniques to have their way.

Now, if you feel that the FCC should establish some rules to protect the freedom of the Internet, then you should oppose the Hutchinson Resolution. I myself prefer legislation that I have introduced and some of my colleagues support, called the Freedom of the Internet Act, that goes further than what the Federal Communications Commission system has done to implement true net neutrality.

I would prefer that, and maybe in the future my colleagues will be working on such legislation. But as it is today, the Federal Communications Commission has taken a half step, if you will, by proposing some rules that will set in place some protections for consumers to make sure that they are protected on important aspects of keeping Internet costs down.

The problem with the FCC rules is that they only apply in some cases to fixed broadband and not to mobile broadband. So if you think about it this way, the entire Internet is moving to a mobile broadband platform. That is our hand held devices, whether they are blackberries or phones or what have you. So many more Americans are accessing the Internet that way.

So the FCC has come up with rules on transparency and no blocking – that is, to make sure that no content is blocked or slowed down for any undue cost or reason – and nondiscrimination rule. Unfortunately, those two last points, no blocking and unreasonable discrimination, don’t apply to the mobile side. So we have work to do to make sure that the youth of America, who are consuming so much content online through their mobile devices aren’t going to be artificially charged more or slowed down their access all because the telecommunications industry wants to have its way with the Internet.

Now, my colleagues have been out here talking about innovation. I can tell you the Internet has had a tonof innovation and a ton of content creation all because there has been an even playing field and net neutrality. And, the fact now that the telecommunications company, who is debating an important issue – the lines get blurred between telecommunications and the Internet – and it’s clear that we don’t have all the rules in place to make sure that consumer interests are protected.        

But we do today have one thing. The FCC rules that are trying to slow down telecommunication companies from artificially either blocking or making your content on the Internet more expensive. And again, when you go to the mobile phone model and you’re being charged for time and data transfer, the fact that that data transfer and time take longer means you are going to have more expensive phone bills.

That's kind of why I said it was TARP-like because the ka-ching you are going to hear from the phone companies on the money they are going to make from this is unbelievable. So thank God the FCC took a half-step, and said whoa, slow down, we're not going to let you do that. That's why people like Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee, the architects and inventors pushing the Internet, have said what a bad idea it is to not make sure that net neutrality is the law of the land.

Now, I notice my colleague who just spoke said well, there haven't been any problems, there haven't been any issues. I read the online publications and Larry Lessig, somebody that I trust, was recounting in one of his interviews exactlywhat happened. That Comcast went in and basically blocked large data files of peer-to-peer transfer, what's called bit torrent traffic. And first, Comcast said no, we didn't do that, we didn't block that, we didn't do it. And then literally, basically when it was found out that they did, they said oh, no, we didn't block it, we just slowed it down.

And they sent little messages, as Mr. Lessig says in his article, to the Internet traffic to confuse the recipient and basically disrupt their traffic. Okay. So, that's what's happening. These providers who think, if I can control the pipe, now I can also control the flow.

It's also, as Mr. Lessig said later in this article, as if the entire electricity grid, your refrigerator and your toaster and your dryer, all of a sudden would start charging different rates and different things because the electricity company would decide that ithad the ability to charge different rates. Would we put up with that? No, we wouldn't put up with that. So why would we put up with allowing telcos to just run wild on the Internet, charging consumers anything that they want based on the fact that they think they have a control on the switch?

So I’m proud that the Chairman, Senator Rockefeller, has led this fight for the freedomof the Internet, to drive down costs, to keep innovation and to protect net neutrality. The FCC rules do not go far enough. You can't continue to have this half-step and not clearly on the mobile side give consumers the protection they need.

But for today, if you want to vote with Internet consumers and Internet users on driving down the cost of the Internet, then vote against this resolution and keep the minimal FCC rules in place until we can get stronger legislation passed.

Make no mistake about it. The other side is talking about well they don't want to regulate the Internet. That's true. They don't want to regulate telcos who want to take advantage of the fact that they own pipes and can charge youa lot more. I'm glad the FCC at least took this measure. We should make sure that it stands until we can even get stronger Internet freedom protection.

I thank the President, and I yield the floor.

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