Ensuring that Vermonters have access to high-quality, cutting edge communications services is critical in the 21st Century.  From basic phone service to the fastest Internet speeds, communications services keep us connected and allow businesses to grow and have a global reach.  Senator Leahy is working to ensure that rural areas like Vermont have the same access to high-quality services and advanced networks as urban areas.  He is also a leading voice in the fight to keep the Internet free and open by standing up for strong net neutrality rules that will keep the Internet an equal playing field.

Fighting for an Open Internet

The Internet is a transformative technology that serves as a great equalizer for both economic growth and democratic expression.  Unfortunately, too many Vermonters lack a real choice in providers, which gives broadband companies the power to serve as gatekeepers of what consumers can see online.  Senator Leahy believes that no entity, whether it is the government or a broadband provider, should be able to dictate the terms of free speech online.  Net neutrality rules that prevent providers from blocking or throttling lawful content and prevent “fast lane” agreements help preserve that principle.

Senator Leahy has been one of the loudest voices in the Senate for meaningful net neutrality rules.  Following the court decision in January of 2014 that invalidated the Federal Communications Commission’s 2010 open Internet rules, he held two Judiciary Committee hearings exploring the importance of an open Internet, including a field hearing in Vermont.  He introduced legislation, the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act, to instruct the FCC to ban harmful pay-to-play deals that would create a two-tiered Internet.  He also wrote to major broadband providers asking that they commit to never engage in these kinds of harmful deals.

In February of 2015, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled his net neutrality proposal, which included the ban on pay-to-play deals that Senator Leahy called for.  Senator Leahy supports Chairman Wheeler’s efforts to restore certainty to the Internet by establishing clear rules of the road that will prevent broadband providers from engaging in activities that would harm economic growth and free speech online.  He continues to be a strong advocate for open Internet policies that protect consumers and small businesses.

Broadband Deployment

For too long, broadband deployment in rural America has lagged behind the rest of the nation.  Access to high speed Internet drives job creation and economic prosperity.  Senator Leahy has worked to secure funding for the Vermont Broadband Council, the Vermont Council on Rural Development, the University of Vermont, the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Economic Development Council of Northern Vermont to promote projects that bring high-speed Internet and next generation data systems to rural, underserved portions of Vermont.

The 2014 Farm Bill included a provision authored by Senator Leahy to establish a pilot program within the Rural Utilities Service Broadband program that authorizes investment in ultra-high speed gigabit projects in rural areas.  Ultra-high speed networks are approximately 100 times faster than the average Internet speeds today and are the next generation of broadband investment.  Senator Leahy believes that investing in these networks today will ensure that rural America will not fall even further behind.

Problems Completing Rural Telephone Calls

Consumers in rural areas have been experiencing unacceptable problems with their telephone service.  Calls that do not go through or calls with poor quality connections are common examples.  Senator Leahy has urged the FCC to take steps to address these issues.  In response, the FCC has clarified its existing rules that prevent discrimination against rural areas and established new rules to help it identify companies that may be responsible.  Senator Leahy has been supportive of the enforcement actions the FCC has brought to crack down on companies violating the rules.

These are serious problems that harm consumers and businesses in Vermont.  Senator Leahy is following the FCC’s progress on this issue closely and will continue to work to ensure that it has the tools necessary to enforce the law against any company violating the rules.  To learn more about this problem, you can visit the FCC’s website.  To report problems with your service, you can file a complaint with the FCC.