Cantwell: Internet Bill Doesn’t Protect Net Neutrality and the Innovation Economy

Senator: GOP-drafted bill has loopholes ‘big enough to drive a truck through’


WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a hearing Wednesday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said that a proposed bill on “net neutrality” had a loophole “big enough to drive a truck through” and would allow cable companies to create a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes and slow lanes that would lead to higher costs for consumers and innovators.

“It doesn’t fix the fast lane problem because there is a big exemption,” said Cantwell during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing. “Hidden in the middle of the bill are provisions that permit cable companies and telecoms to create fast lanes for vaguely defined ‘specialized services’. This leaves the innovators without the kind of guarantee needed to harness the full power of the Internet.”

Cantwell is fighting for strong protections for equal access to the Internet as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to finalize new rules next month. Those rules would govern how Internet Service Providers can manage access to broadband networks, and are intended to preserve unfettered access to the Web and prohibit companies from creating two-tiered Internet with fast lanes for those who can afford to pay. But Republicans in Congress have drafted legislation that would limit the FCC’s authority to regulate Internet access.

“I’ve heard loud and clear from my constituents on this issue, and the innovation economy in the Puget Sound is not going to be quiet on this,” Cantwell said. It is the life blood of our economy. My constituents wanted me to bring the message that this affects all of commerce, and it also could bring a chilling effect on investment.”

Wednesday’s hearing led by Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), the committee chairman, focused on the FCC’s existing authority and proposals for preserving an open Internet. Cantwell said that the recent legislative proposal prohibits the FCC from using its authority under Title II of the Communications Act or its existing authority under Section 706, which would deny the agency flexibility to adopt to evolving technologies or changes in broadband service.

Cantwell used Wednesday’s hearing to share concerns she heard during a roundtable discussion Monday in Seattle with representatives from startups such as Moz, Cheezburger, Inc., Strange Loop Games, and Porch, who warned that a two-tiered Internet would threaten innovation. Participants said weakening open Internet rules could result in higher costs of startups and consumers.

The Internet is a $638 billion economic force, according to data in a McKinsey Global Institute report. Washington state has 191,000 internet economy jobs – and was ranked by CNBC as one of the top 5 states for innovation.  Washington also has the nation’s second-highest rate of broadband users – 88.4 percent use a fixed or mobile broadband connection.

Cantwell has been a leader in defending net neutrality and equal access for all Internet users. In December, she spearheaded a letter with 10 other Senators calling on Congressional leaders to preserve four tenets of net neutrality: No blocking content, no paid prioritization, no throttling, and greater transparency. In 2011, she joined with Senator Al Franken (D-MN) to cosponsor legislation that would have codified net neutrality rules.