UPDATED AT 11:09 A.M. WITH EXCERPTS of CANTWELL’S SPEECH:
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, one of most vocal advocates in Congress for an open Internet, on Wednesday called on Congress to ensure that “net neutrality is the law of the land.”
The Washington Democrat’s remarks on the Senate floor came after President Obama earlier this month waded into the contentious issue of whether broadband providers should be allowed to charge a premium to move certain kinds of Internet traffic faster.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is weighing whether to tighten regulations to treat broadband operators such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon Communications like utilities. That possibility has already brought threats of lawsuits against the agency.
Cantwell has long called for banning tolls to websites such as Netflix that would create fast and slow lanes on the Internet. In January 2001, Cantwell introduced a bill to codify that stance, but the Senate never acted on it. Cantwell serves on the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee’s subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet.
Obama stepped into the net neutrality debate last Monday by urging the FCC to use its most powerful authority, known as Title II of the Communications Act, saying that the Internet is essential to the economy.
Critics question whether such regulation would be legal. Some civil rights leaders, including Jesse Jackson, also are pushing for lighter regulation, saying that a blanket ban on pay-for-priority would shortchange minority and low-income Americans by discouraging broadband operators from offering special deals or expanding broadband access.
Cantwell, however, said Wednesday, that allowing companies to block or slow down traffic would “threaten the fundamental nature of the Internet.”
“I encourage the FCC to adopt robust and durable rules to prevent blocking, throttling, and fast lanes, and to safeguard transparency for consumers.” Cantwell said. “These rules should apply both to the wired and wireless broadband networks so that your web browser, your personal computer, and your apps on your phone all are treated in the same way. This important policy will provide certainty to the start-up and business communities the same way as it will to the Fortune 500 companies. In other words, we will treat an entrepreneur that started their company in a garage the same way as we treat a big multinational corporation.”