A few Republican lawmakers are breaking with the party in order to oppose or express skepticism about tomorrow's Federal Communications Commission vote to eliminate net neutrality rules.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) yesterday called on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to delay the commission's vote and give Congress time to "hold hearings on the net neutrality issue and to pass permanent open Internet legislation."
Thx to everyone who has contacted me in regards to #NetNeutrality. Below is the letter I sent to Chairman @AjitPaiFCC today to ensure the continuation of a free and open #internet. pic.twitter.com/oKqh7lxaLI
— Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) December 12, 2017
"The preceding four Chairmen of the Federal Communications Commission, two Republicans and two Democrats, all took steps to uphold the basic principles that guaranteed a free and open Internet," Coffman wrote in a letter to Pai.
Coffman referred to a Pai statement from when the FCC's then-Democratic majority imposed the current net neutrality rules in 2015. The commission's "five unelected individuals" should not decide a "dispute this fundamental," Pai said then. Instead, Pai in 2015 said that "the people's elected representatives" should decide.
Coffman wants Pai to return to his former stance that the FCC should wait for Congress to act. "I believe Congress can find the right balance of light-touch regulatory authority while celebrating the same open Internet protections that exist today," Coffman told Pai.
Net neutrality advocacy group Demand Progress pointed to similar statements from several other Republican lawmakers:
[On Monday], Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) tweeted that he had urged Chairman Pai to 'preserve the framework of net neutrality,' something that Pai's so-called 'Restoring Internet Freedom' order would not do.
Recently, Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) said in a statement, that he 'support[s] the principles of net neutrality such as no blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization.' Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) expressed skepticism about Pai's plan, saying he hopes any action taken by the FCC will not allow for 'the slowing down, degradation, or blocking of online content by outside groups.'
I recently urged Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to preserve the framework of net neutrality. The upcoming decision should not allow for corporate monopolistic domination, whether internet service provider delivery or content creators. #NetNeutraility
— Jeff Fortenberry (@JeffFortenberry) December 11, 2017
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) reportedly does not support the repeal, with a spokesperson saying that "Internet providers must not manage their system in an anti-competitive way that limits consumers' choices," according to the Bangor Daily News.
"The growing Congressional Republican opposition reflects polling that shows broad support for net neutrality, including among Republican voters and the party's base, as well as a quickly escalating, widespread backlash against Pai's plan," Demand Progress said. "On Dec. 7th, over 700 protests were held in all 50 states and in many Republican districts, with tens of thousands attending. In recent weeks, over 850,000 calls have been made to Congress opposing Pai's order through the site BattleForTheNet.com."
The statements from Republicans leave open the possibility of supporting changes to the current net neutrality rules. Curtis, for example, also said that he is "concerned that heavy-handed regulation of the Internet will stifle innovative and economic growth." But these Republican lawmakers support at least some restrictions on ISPs, whereas Pai's plan totally eliminates prohibitions on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.
A few Republicans speaking out won't stop the rollback, as Pai's Republican majority still intends to repeal the rules tomorrow. But the statements are significant because Republican lawmakers have generally been in lockstep in supporting Pai—even though polls have found that most Republican voters want to keep net neutrality rules. The protests by net neutrality advocates may have helped pressure some Republicans to speak out on Pai's plan.
Democratic lawmakers have consistently opposed the repeal and are continuing their quest to keep the net neutrality rules in place. Thirty-nine senators urged Pai in a letter to "abandon this radical and reckless plan to turn the FCC's back on consumers and the future of the free and open Internet."
The FCC's repeal still has support from Republican lawmakers in general. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the Commerce Committee chairman, commended Pai's repeal plan in a speech yesterday. Still, Thune has previously supported legislation that would ban blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, and he said yesterday that he is open to a compromise with Democrats.
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