Leahy Floor Statement On Repeal Of Net Neutrality Rules

This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is preparing to give a giant, early Christmas present to a few, deep-pocketed telecom companies, as it prepares to repeal critical net neutrality protections.  Net neutrality is the simple principle that the Internet should be kept free and open by preventing the corporations who control the connections to selectively throttle or block certain content.  Repealing net neutrality rules will benefit just a few powerful corporations—and it will do so at the expense of small businesses, consumers, and hardworking Americans, whose persistent and passionate voices on this issue have been completely ignored by the FCC’s Republican majority.

Despite calling for public hearings when the current net neutrality protections were developed, Chairman Pai has failed to heed his own advice now that he is in charge of the FCC.  The only people he seems to have listened to are those with deep enough pockets to afford high-powered lobbyists.  If you are a concerned citizen or small business owner, your voice does not matter to this FCC.  As someone who held public hearings on this issue in 2014, I can tell you that there is widespread and overwhelming support for net neutrality just about everywhere except at the FCC itself.

If Chairman Pai took the time to listen, as I did, he would hear from small business owners like Cabot Orton at the Vermont Country Store, who told me, “we’re not asking for special treatment, incentives or subsidies. All the small business community asks is simply to preserve and protect Internet commerce as it exists today, which has served all businesses remarkably well.”  Just today, we have received a letter from businesses in northern New England, including Vermont’s own Ben and Jerry’s, Cabot Creamery Cooperative, and King Arthur Flour, discussing the “crippling effect” a repeal of net neutrality rules would have on rural businesses.  I ask unanimous consent that a copy of this letter be placed in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks.

Chairman Pai would hear from libraries, which for some rural communities are the only way to access the Internet.  As Vermont’s State Librarian, Martha Reid, told me: “All Americans—including the most disenfranchised citizens, those who would have no way to access the Internet without the library—need to be able to use Internet resources on an equal footing.” 

Chairman Pai would also hear from independent content creators whose voices are too often not heard on traditional media.  As actress, writer, and producer Ruth Livier told me: “[I]n the unprecedented world of an open, nondiscriminatory Internet, no longer did low-budgets and no connections mean there was no way in.  Never again could we be disregarded by anyone who essentially asks, ‘Who are you to have your story be told?’”  These are the voices that are being ignored, and these are the Americans who stand to lose the most from Chairman Pai’s misguided plan. 

This is not about partisanship.  Republicans and Democrats alike benefit from the power of an open Internet, and equally stand to be harmed if the rules of the road ensuring its openness go away.  None of us should support a process that willfully dismisses the voices of our constituents.  I hope that all Senators will join me in calling on the FCC to abandon its reckless vote to repeal net neutrality.

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David Carle: 202-224-3693