US Senate Reverses FCC Decision on Net Neutrality – Faces House Battle Now

'Red Alert' Campaign for Net Neutrality

TRNN Replay: In a 52 to 47 decision the Senate decided to reverse the FCC’s decision to get rid of net neutrality. However, for it to take effect it still needs to pass the House, which will be difficult. We spoke to Craig Aaron of Free Press before the vote passed

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Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert, coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.

 

This week, about three dozen digital media companies and organizations are launching a new campaign to reverse the Federal Communications Commission decision to revoke net neutrality. The campaign aims to convince U.S. senators to vote against the FCC decision that went into effect on April 23. According to a federal law known as the Congressional Review Act, Congress can reverse the FCC’s decision within 60 days of a new rule going into effect. This Wednesday, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer plans to introduce a motion to reverse this FCC net neutrality decision. The Senate then has about a week to vote on the motion.

 

Just to remind people, net neutrality is a principle according to which Internet service providers must treat all Internet traffic the same, regardless of its source. Joining me to discuss the latest campaign to reverse the FCC decision to rescind net neutrality is Craig Aaron. Craig is the president of the organization Free Press, one of the groups that is fighting for net neutrality. Thanks for joining us again, Craig.

 

CRAIG AARON: Thanks for having me back.

 

GREG WILPERT: So tell us about the Red Alert campaign. What are the main groups behind it, what is the plan, and what do you hope it will achieve?

 

CRAIG AARON: Absolutely. This is a campaign largely organized by the groups behind BattleForTheNet.com, that’s led by Fight For The Future, Demand Progress, and my group, Free Press Action Fund. And we’ve been uniting for a whole series of activities over the last several years to really highlight the importance of net neutrality and put pressure on Washington decisionmakers.

 

And ever since the FCC decided to undo the fundamental net neutrality protections back in December, we’ve been pushing Congress to overturn that decision. And later this week, we take a big step in that direction, as the Senate will finally take up a bill to overturn what the FCC did. And we feel pretty confident, and we’re, but we’re trying to rally as much public attention and support as possible. The more senators that send a rebuke to the FCC that show how out of touch the FCC is with the public, the greater chance we have of seeing this bill continue to move in the House, to eventually be enacted in law, and to restore these fundamental protections over the free and open Internet that we’re at risk of losing.

 

GREG WILPERT: So what are the chances of it passing? I had heard that you currently have about 50 votes, but need 51. So in other words, you need one more Republican, basically, to vote in favor of this. What do you think are the chances of that happening?

 

CRAIG AARON: I think the chances are very good, because what we’ve seen is this incredible groundswell of public interest that really, ever since last fall, I mean, it’s been building for a decade, but it really exploded in November and December. You know, millions of people finding out about the issue that didn’t know about it before. All the polling shows that north of 80 percent of Americans want real net neutrality. They support the free and open Internet.

 

So I think we are, we’ve already seen one Republican on the record, Susan Collins from Maine, break with the party. I’m confident that we will see others. We’re putting a lot of pressure on senators like John Kennedy of Louisiana, Orrin Hatch in Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada, Cory Gardner in Colorado. Republicans, some of whom are seeking re-election, some of them aren’t, but who are all facing a lot of pressure from people in their community, in their states, to vote the right way on this one.

 

So that’s why we’re doing this, we’ve declared this red alert, why we’re urging so many people to speak out again now, because we can really put a lot of pressure on the Senate. But it’s really remarkable that we’ve already got 50 senators on the record in support of this bill before it’s even been reintroduced. So those are co-sponsors or declared supporters of this bill. I feel pretty confident that we are going to be able to move a few more and see this bill pass the Senate as soon as next week.

 

GREG WILPERT: As you’ve mentioned, several polls indicate that over 80 percent of the population supports net neutrality. And that includes even as much as, according to one poll I read, 75 percent of Republicans still practically, or the vast majority of Republicans in the Senate, and probably in the House as well, are in favor of abolishing net neutrality, or keeping it abolished. Why is that? What is, what is keeping them, why aren’t they going on an issue that is so popular, overwhelmingly popular, and what’s keeping them from from supporting net neutrality?

 

CRAIG AARON: Yeah, I think the short answer is money. The phone and cable lobby is a very influential lobby in Washington. They spend a ton of money. They’ve put a lot of pressure on these legislators to get rid of net neutrality. And I think you’ve got that combined with an ideological orientation for a lot of these members of Congress that says anything good that happened during the Obama administration must be bad. And so you sort of got a predisposition to attacking any rules or regulations that were passed during the Obama years, which those of us who’ve been in the net neutrality fight, I can kind of laugh about it in a sense, or laugh to keep from crying, because we remember we were fighting with the Obama administration to pass these rules and get the strongest net neutrality protections on the books. That’s a fight we won in 2015.

 

And unfortunately, the Trump administration and the Ajit Pai FCC have decided to go the other way and try to overturn those strong rules. That said, I know that the Senate and the Congress are getting an earful from their constituents. They’re hearing about this issue when they’re back home. They’re hearing about this issue more than they’ve ever heard about it before. And they’re reading or recognize this is an issue that’s actually taking people to the polls, that’s a key part of people’s political involvement. And so they’re having to pay attention in a new way. The Republicans are going slower than the Democrats to pick up on that. I hope they’re really starting to get the message. That’s certainly the message we’ll be sending over the next couple of weeks, really letting them know that this is not actually a partisan issue. This has broad bipartisan, nonpartisan support because people want to be able to find the information that they want online. They want to decide for themselves what web sites are going to work and which aren’t. And in a time of really extreme political polarization, everybody can agree that they still hate the cable company.

 

GREG WILPERT: Yes, it seems like this whole issue actually also divides two different industries. That is, on the one side you’ve got the Internet service providers such as Comcast and AT&T pitted against digital service providers such as Netflix, Reddit, and Tumblr. I’m wondering, is there an effort to get other digital service providers such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, I mean, these are the really big giants to weigh in in favor of net neutrality. And if they did, wouldn’t that change the outcome?

 

CRAIG AARON: Well, it certainly would help for the biggest internet companies to weigh in on the right side of things. You know, I think what you’re looking at is a situation where we’re talking about the biggest Internet companies. And to be clear, Google, Facebook, Amazon, YouTube, they’re all on the record in support of net neutrality. And over this 10 year fight at many times they’ve spoken out, signed letters. Now, are these big companies putting their full lobbying weight behind this issue? No, they’re not. This is being driven from the grassroots. This is being driven by companies at a much different stage in their development. Startups, people who are trying to compete with the big guys.

 

And you know, this is one of the big fights that’s coming to Washington. Are these powerful platforms going to continue to side on the side of the free and open internet, or are they going to start to partner up with big phone and cable companies? These are, these are big existential questions for these companies. That said, they’re on the record in support, so there’s no question about that. And all the energy is coming from the grassroots. I think it certainly couldn’t hurt for those companies to speak out. I think you’ll see a lot of other companies who aren’t, you know, sort of the big four speaking out. Companies like Etsy, AirBnB. You know, other Internet innovators already committed to being part of the days of action that are ahead for us.

 

And that is key. That is key in raising people’s attention. But the amazing thing about net neutrality and the fight we’ve been having now for years is that it’s never been driven by one corporation or another. It’s been big phone and cable companies fighting against it. But the energy has really come from Internet users, Internet innovators, activists. They’ve been the ones pushing and keep putting this on the agenda. There’s probably a lot of big companies, frankly, that wish the issue would go away. But Internet users themselves have kept it front and center.

 

GREG WILPERT: And just one more question. Opponents of net neutrality tend to argue that just before the FCC rule was passed in 2015, net neutrality wasn’t really a problem in the sense that that the companies, the Internet service providers haven’t really provided, you know, these graduated kind of plans that would give better access to those who pay more. And now since the rule has passed, that is, since April 2013, nothing much has changed either. So they tend to argue that, well, it really doesn’t make a difference. We don’t need net neutrality. What’s your response to that argument?

 

CRAIG AARON: Well, I would say a couple of things. One technical correction is that the rules actually haven’t gone into effect yet. They’re delayed under review by the OMB. So we’re still waiting, technically, for the full repeal to take effect. That’s, that’s been held up. So we don’t know directly what the effect is. What we do know is what these companies say they want to do. We do know they’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat net neutrality for a reason.

 

And we do know what they tell their own investors, what they say when they’re under oath in court. And that’s that given the opportunity to discriminate, given the opportunity to create fast lanes for their own content and those who can pay the most, that’s absolutely what they intend to do. They’ve been very clear about that when they’re talking to each other at trade shows, when they’re talking in the courts, when they’ve been forced under oath to admit what their business plans are, they’ve been very clear they are eager to violate net neutrality. They’re eager to change the way the Internet works. They like a system that looks like cable television, where they can pick and choose the channels for you, where they can give the best treatment to themselves and their business partners. That’s been very clear. That’s what we’ve been fighting against.

 

So what they decide to say when they’re writing op-eds in Politico or going up to the Hill or going to the FCC, that’s not what I would listen to. I would listen to what they’re saying at their, at their business conferences, what they’re saying when they’re in court, what they’re saying to their investors. And that’s very clear that they’re saying that given the chance, they’re going to violate the free and open internet and explore all these kinds of programs and schemes to favor their own content. And that’s what we’re fighting against.

 

GREG WILPERT: OK. Well, we’ll continue to follow this story. But we’ll leave it there for now. I was speaking to Craig Aaron of Free Press. Thanks again for joining us today, Craig.

 

CRAIG AARON: Hey, thanks so much for having me. Appreciate it.

 

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining the Real News Network.