Leahy Statement On Consideration Of S.J.Res. 52 To Restore Net Neutrality

Millions of Americans were outraged last year when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal the strong and enforceable net neutrality rules that were adopted in 2015.  As a supporter of a free and open internet, I share the public’s outrage over the loss of these critical protections, which is why I am voting in favor of this resolution to restore the previous rules.

By repealing net neutrality rules, the FCC and its supporters in Congress have achieved little more than to plunge consumers and small businesses into a fog of uncertainty.  Instead of having concrete legal protections in place against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, Internet users now have little more than vague promises from broadband providers about how they will treat content online.  These promises could disappear with little notice or no recourse for those affected.  This is the wrong way to approach policy for the greatest engine of economic growth and free speech ever devised.

The uncertainty created by Republicans at the FCC and blessed by too many here in Congress jeopardizes the success of small businesses and startups across the country.  One of the main concerns I hear from small businesses in Vermont is fear of paid prioritization.  Without clear rules in place, broadband providers can set up pay-to-play schemes that disadvantage small businesses against deep-pocketed competitors. 

In a pay-to-play online world, small businesses will be forced to decide whether or not to pay tolls in order to avoid being stuck in the slow lane.  These tolls do nothing to promote innovation, but they would impose a tremendous cost on entrepreneurs.  These costs would come at the expense of investing in new equipment, new products, or new jobs.  For those who choose not to pay, the cost would be access to customers, who today already make decisions based on how fast a page or application loads.  A few seconds of lag time can mean the difference between a sale made or a sale lost to a competitor.

Net neutrality rules matter because they provide small businesses with the certainty that paid prioritization will not happen.  The promises and statements made by leading broadband providers following the repeal of the rules too often make no mention at all of their stance on paid prioritization.  Others have quietly deleted promises not to engage in this behavior from their website.  In February, the CEO of Sprint was quoted comparing the Internet to roads, saying that on many roads “you have a faster road and you pay more.  There’s nothing wrong with that.”  Concerns about paid prioritization cannot be dismissed when CEOs of leading companies are speaking openly about the benefits of toll roads on the Internet.

This should not be a partisan issue.  Republicans and Democrats alike should want to provide the small business community with the certainty that the Internet will remain an equal playing field.  The simple reality is that without net neutrality rules, this certainty will not exist.  The resolution we are considering today gives us the clearest path to restoring that certainty.  I urge all Senators to stand with the American people, small businesses, and startups in supporting this resolution.

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