07.10.14

Leahy’s Report To The Senate On Last Wk’s VT Field Hg. On NET NEUTRALITY

Last week, I chaired a field hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Burlington, Vermont, on an issue of critical importance:  preserving an open Internet.  The Committee heard testimony about the need for concrete, fundamental protections to ensure that the Internet is not abused by those who control how we connect to the Internet.

The timing of the hearing was not a coincidence.  I convened it during a week when Americans were gathering to celebrate what our Founders put in motion more than 200 years ago.  While no one then could have imagined then how important the Internet would become, the sentiment and priorities expressed at the hearing would have made our founders proud.  We heard from hardworking business owners and consumers about the role of the Internet in enhancing free expression, and as a free and open marketplace where competition drives innovation.  I brought the Judiciary Committee to Burlington to show the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Congress that the decisions made on this issue will have deep and wide impact far outside of the Nation’s capital, and in the economies of our local communities. 

Witnesses at this field hearing warned of how the FCC’s proposed approach to new net neutrality rules would harm small businesses, community institutions and consumers.  Cabot Orton, the proprietor of the Vermont Country Store, testified that the company’s e-commerce site now accounts for 40 percent of its overall revenue and that one-third of the company’s 450 employees support those Internet transactions.  In explaining his concerns about the FCC’s proposed rules, Mr. Orton was clear: “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.”  Another Vermont small business owner, Lisa Groeneveld, explained that her company, Logic Supply, spent money building a quality product — not in purchasing preferential Internet access.  She said that “without an Open and Fair Internet based on equal access, our business wouldn’t even exist today.”  Both Ms. Groeneveld and Mr. Orton testified that the success they have achieved with their online businesses would have been difficult to accomplish if the Internet had been a pay-to-play world when they initially launched their sites. 

We heard from other perspectives, too.  Vermont’s State Librarian, Martha Reid, testified about the need to ensure equal access for those who rely on public libraries for their Internet access, which includes many people in rural areas.  Vermonters know of my love for the library I frequented growing up – the Kellogg Hubbard Library.  It was a place where I went not just for summer reading, but to learn.  Ms. Reid testified that “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.”  Her testimony was supported by former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who explained that “An Internet controlled and managed for the benefit of the ‘haves’ discriminates against our rights not just as consumers but, more importantly, as citizens.”  The testimony from these individuals offers a relevant selection of the real world experiences that must be heard by the FCC and Congress as this debate continues.

Like the witnesses who informed the Committee in Vermont last week, I do not want to see an Internet that is divided into the “haves” and the “have-nots.”  I do not want to see an Internet where those who can afford to pay muffle the voices of those who cannot.  An online world that is split into fast lanes and slow lanes, where pay-to-play deals dictate who can reach consumers, runs counter to every principle on which the Internet was founded.  Last month I joined Congresswoman Doris Matsui to introduce the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act that requires the FCC to ban online pay-to-play deals.  Open Internet principles are the Bill of Rights for the online world.  We must get this right.  If we fail to do so, we may not get another chance

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