Sen. Maria Cantwell on the fight for net neutrality, Facebook hearings and T-Mobile merger

By:  Monica Nickelsburg
Source: GeekWire

Senate Democrats are planning to force a vote to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality repeal and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) wants more tech companies to join the fight.

That’s one takeaway from her interview with GeekWire this week, which covered a wide range of tech issues, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent Congressional testimony, T-Mobile’s proposed merger with Sprint, in addition to the impending battle over net neutrality.

Some tech companies, like Netflix, Etsy, and Twitter, have been vocal advocates for net neutrality but others “could be louder,” Cantwell said.

The vote, scheduled for this month, needs support from just one more Senator to advance the fight to overturn the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. In December, the FCC voted to repeal the policy, which requires internet providers (like Comcast and Verizon) to deliver the same speed of service to all content providers (like Netflix and Instagram) without slowing some sites or providing paid fast lanes for others.

Cantwell is concerned that the absence of net neutrality will be an advantage for big companies that can afford to pay for faster service while smaller startups struggle to get a foothold in the market because their products are delivered to customers more slowly. On Tuesday, thousands of small businesses plan to deliver a letterurging Congress to pass the proposal championed by Cantwell and other Democrats.

“We just want to be a very nurturing environment for startups and if you’re a big player today, you probably think, ‘oh well, I’ll be able to negotiate a good rate’ …  but I would say to them that we want the thousand flowers to bloom of other companies that are yet to come and we don’t want them to be shut down from access to good broadband,” Cantwell said.

If the proposal gets enough votes to clear the Senate, it will still need to pass the House and secure President Donald Trump’s signature. That’s a tall order but even if the Senate proposal doesn’t pass, it does send a message to voters who support net neutrality in advance of this year’s midterm elections.

Sen. Cantwell, a tech industry veteran herself, joined us in the GeekWire studio in Seattle for a podcast discussion about these and other tech issues facing lawmakers. Listen to the podcast below, and continue reading for highlights from her comments.

On Zuckerberg’s hearing: “I think it was the beginning of a conversation. I definitely don’t think it was the end of a conversation. I hope that they realize that they have to do a lot more than they’re doing today. A lot more. So we’ll see how they respond. I’m sure we are going to respond with legislation but let’s see what they say as well.”

On questioning Zuckerberg about Palantir: “I wanted to do a good job of bringing up this larger issue about the impact on our elections and the fact that, from time-to-time, government also overreaches … I used to say that we were at just the tip of the iceberg of the information age. Now I think we’ve actually looked underwater and we see this massive, massive change underway and I think we’re just going to have to spend a lot of time discussing it.”

On the Senate vote to overturn the FCC’s net neutrality decision: “We need to get some colleagues to help us on the other side of the aisle. I think some of our colleagues, who come from states that really understand technology, should join us in helping to fight for an open internet that would allow us to preserve the innovation that comes with not having fast and slow lanes and pricing that would thwart innovation, but so far we haven’t found one on the Republican side.”

On the T-Mobile and Sprint merger: “I think the thing that might be different from other previous discussions, other mergers, is these are not the top entity trying to consolidate the market but maybe some of the other players trying to gain foothold, but we’re going to review it. We’re going to look and see how that does affect consumers, let the public comment. If you’re the number one and you’re trying to buy the number two, that’s a pretty big question. If you’re three and four trying to merge to give competition to one and two, it might be a different conversation.”

On her top tech issue: “I’m very concerned about our free and fair elections. I really am. I’m very concerned both from the perspective of the level of cybersecurity that we need to have to protect our elections from under hacking and undue influence. We’re now seeing government state-owned actors who are attacking things like our power grid … that really worries me. I want to get that right. I want to make sure that the United States, that people have confidence in our system and that they believe that their information is going to be protected.”