Reid Vows to Defend Net Neutrality From Republican Attacks

The letter could give the FCC political cover to enact tougher rules.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 15: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks at a press conference following the weekly Democratic policy luncheon July 15, 2014 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Reid spoke on immigration and women's rights issues during his remarks. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
July 30, 2014, 6:20 a.m.

Harry Re­id wants the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion to know he’ll be on the agency’s side in a polit­ic­al battle with Re­pub­lic­ans.

In a let­ter to lib­er­al ad­vocacy groups, the Sen­ate ma­jor­ity lead­er vowed to “lead the fight” to de­fend net-neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions “against the in­ev­it­able Re­pub­lic­an at­tack.”

The Sen­ate’s top Demo­crat said the reg­u­la­tions should give con­sumers “ac­cess to the law­ful con­tent they want when they want it” and should “en­sure that pri­or­ity ar­range­ments that harm con­sumers are pro­hib­ited.”

Re­id’s let­ter could re­as­sure FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er that he has the polit­ic­al sup­port he needs to ig­nore the Re­pub­lic­an out­cry and en­act strong net-neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions.

The FCC first en­acted net-neut­ral­ity rules in 2010 that barred In­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders from block­ing web­sites or “un­reas­on­ably” dis­crim­in­at­ing against any traffic. A fed­er­al court struck those rules down earli­er this year, and Wheel­er is now try­ing to re­work the reg­u­la­tions in a way that can sur­vive court chal­lenges.

His pro­pos­al has sparked a massive back­lash be­cause it could al­low In­ter­net pro­viders to charge web­sites for faster ser­vice as long as the agree­ments are “com­mer­cially reas­on­able.”

Lib­er­al groups and some Demo­crat­ic law­makers have urged Wheel­er to reg­u­late In­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders un­der the same au­thor­ity that the FCC uses for tele­phone com­pan­ies. Re­clas­si­fy­ing In­ter­net pro­viders as util­it­ies un­der Title II of the Com­mu­nic­a­tions Act would give the FCC sweep­ing power to en­act tough net-neut­ral­ity rules, but it would prompt a ma­jor battle with in­dustry groups and con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans.

Most Re­pub­lic­ans be­lieve net-neut­ral­ity rules are un­ne­ces­sary and bur­den­some, but they would be apo­plect­ic if the FCC treated the In­ter­net like a util­ity. House and Sen­ate GOP lead­ers have sent let­ters to Wheel­er warn­ing him not to ap­ply “mono­poly-era” rules to the In­ter­net, main­tain­ing it would kill in­vest­ment in broad­band net­works.

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Un­der reg­u­lat­ory pro­ced­ure, Con­gress will have an op­por­tun­ity to vote to over­turn any rules the FCC en­acts.

Re­id’s let­ter did not urge the FCC to use its au­thor­ity un­der Title II. But he ac­know­ledged that lib­er­al groups are press­ing the FCC on the is­sue and said he would sup­port “any Open In­ter­net rules” the FCC en­acts.

Dav­id Segal, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the ad­vocacy group De­mand Pro­gress, said the let­ter shows Sen­ate Demo­crats will de­fend the FCC if it uses the Title II op­tion and that Re­pub­lic­ans would likely fight the rules no mat­ter what au­thor­ity the FCC uses.

“So it leaves them to de­cide this im­port­ant is­sue on the mer­its,” Segal said, not­ing that he and oth­er ad­voc­ates have been clear that they be­lieve Title II is the right path.

Re­id sent the let­ter, which is dated Monday, in re­sponse to a let­ter from De­mand Pro­gress, Daily Kos, Mo­ve­On, CREDO, and oth­er lib­er­al ad­vocacy groups.

Bloomberg first re­por­ted on the let­ter.

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