Editor’s Note: In an important victory for our digital liberties, the United States Senate today voted 52–47 in favor of restoring net neutrality as the law of the land in this country. The action now shifts to the House of Representatives, which would also need to vote in favor of net neutrality to overturn the action taken by Ajit Pai’s FCC. The following are the speeches given by United States Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell in support of a free and open Internet prior to the vote.
Patty Murray’s prepared remarks in support of net neutrality:
Thank you, M. President.
I’m here to lift up the voices of the families I represent in Washington state…
…who, like so many other Americans, agree that the internet should be free and open…
…who agree that our country should support small business owners, entrepreneurs, students and middle class families—NOT big corporations and special interests…
…who agree that consumers — not broadband providers—should get to pick the websites they visit or applications they use…
…who agree the internet should be a level playing field that benefits end users, and not slanted by broadband providers blocking content or charging for prioritized access.
That is why so many of us are on the floor today: to give a voice to the vast majority of Americans who want the internet to remain a place that fosters innovation, economic opportunity, robust consumer choice, and the free flow of knowledge.
M. President, these things aren’t a luxury.
They are what makes American ingenuity possible…
…and as a former preschool teacher, I support net neutrality because it helps the next generation of innovators — our students, especially those in rural and low-income areas.
Schools have worked hard to improve access to high-speed connectivity for all students because they know—from early education, through higher education, and workforce training—students need high-speed internet in order to learn and get the skills they need.
Their teachers need the internet to collaborate with colleagues, access educational materials, help students learn valuable research and internet safety skills, and expand access to a high quality education for students with disabilities and English learners.
Rolling back net neutrality threatens that educational equity and worsens the digital divide.
So let’s protect the free and open internet. Not just for today’s consumers, but for students—the next generation of American innovators.
The choice couldn’t be easier.
Either stand with everyday Americans — or with the massive corporations that have found a new way to make more money off of them.
Thank you, I yield the floor.
Transcript of Maria Cantwell’s speech in support of net neutrality:
Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Hawaii and our empathies are with the state of Hawaii as they respond to this volcano eruption. I noticed this morning on the news, they’re referencing it could be as bad as Mount St. Helens, and trust me, that was a devastating impact to our state. So I hope that all federal agencies are helping in any ways we can for Hawaii’s natural disaster.
And thank her for also talking about the importance of net neutrality. I, too, come to the floor to defend the open internet because it is a pro-consumer, pro-innovation rule that we have to build on because it’s worth the 7% of our GDP and 6.9 million jobs. That is what the internet economy is.
Net neutrality that we are fighting for today has four bright lines, four lines that help businesses, helps consumers, and helps our internet economy grow.
They are, don’t block content, don’t throttle content—that is, don’t slow it downs—don’t create paid prioritization.
That’s like saying, in the Burger King ad, if you want the next whopper available, pay $15. I think they did a pretty good job of showing what would happen if you had every business operating that way. And the fourth rule is transparency. Make sure that you know exactly what you’re getting charged for.
The Obama-era federal communications system adopted rules that basically protected consumers and businesses on those four things.
Why did they do that?
Because there were some that were trying to eek their way into making more money off of consumers and businesses on what is basic service. Title 2 was the regulatory framework that the Obama-era FCC used to make sure that consumers were protected, and they were the strongest tools available and helped in making sure there was non-monopolistic behavior that would harm businesses.
So together, the rule that was established by the then-Federal Communications Commission system was an open internet with the FCC being the cop on the beat. That is to say, if you have these rules, you also have to have someone who is going to enforce them. Someone who is going to look at the monopolistic behaviors of cable companies or providers and say, that is unfair to consumers and businesses.
But under the Trump-era FCC, all of those things were thrown out.
And so that is why we’re here today.
Our colleagues are trying to say we want to go back to the protections of the internet that are called net neutrality to make sure that the FCC becomes, instead of a passive entity that just okays every charge that cable companies want to do, instead says, these rules about not slowing down content, not doing monopolistic behavior, these things are wrong and we are going to be the policemen on the beat.
The FCC can protect consumers and innovators and they can make sure that internet traffic does not violate an open internet.
But as I said, the Trump-era FCC is trying to throw out these strong rules and cable companies are already—already—starting to raise prices for higher speed.
In Vancouver, Washington, Comcast recently announced that higher-speed tiers will be available but only to consumers who purchase expensive paid TV bundles.
That’s why we’re here. Because while it sounds like, why do we want to give cable companies the opportunity to throttle or block or create paid prioritization, we also have to realize that today the internet economy is so much bigger than it has ever been, that it is a job creator and an innovator.
In my state, it’s 13% of our economy and thousands of jobs that continue to grow every day as new applications for the internet are created.
It’s so important that businesses who are even using these apps to help run their businesses more efficiently continue to get access to those tools.
But what about an internet that a cable provider decided to artificially slow down that website and thereby creating a disincentive for the very things that are helping to make our businesses more efficient?
So we want to make sure that the FCC does its original job.
What is that?
Well, they are there to promote development and adaptation of communication networks in the public interest. That is, they are serving consumers.
And that is the center of their mission.
The center of their mission should not be serving cable companies, and that is why courts have said to the FCC, if you want to have authority to protect an open internet, you have to do that under Title 2.
Basically, the court explained that enforcing the open internet principles and being a watchdog against abuse is important to the FCC’s mission of promoting and developing and an adoption of communications that’s in the public interest. But that those powers have to flow from Title 2 of the Communications Act.
So that is why the Obama-era FCC adopted those rules.
So today we know that internet is a basic necessity.
It’s the access that helps our health care delivery system work, our education system work, our banking system work, shopping, all sorts of things that make it just a necessary tool in life today. When a service is that essential and critical to individuals and a community and critical to their economic success, we need to make sure that consumers have protections, to make sure that it is not abused.
In the United States, we have just three — well, in the United States, just three providers of internet access have about 70% of the consumers.
In any market with only a few players, it is essential that we protect businesses and consumers, and that is exactly what Title 2 does. It helps protect us from cable company gouging and its close cousin, paid prioritization.
It makes sure that the barriers to entry are not erected so that entrepreneurs or start-ups who want to bring new products to market aren’t artificially slowed down and a larger competitor who can pay more for it can continue the access.
Just recently we had an event with Redfin, someone who is changing the real estate market, a company in the Pacific Northwest, and helping drive down the cost to consumers for real estate purchases. They made it very clear that Redfin was able to develop today because it had an open internet, and its consumers and business partners could connect to it. But under a world where they were just starting over and starting out new and they had to pay for a kind of prioritization to get good broadband service, they may not have been as successful.
So these rules, Title 2, gives expert agencies the tools to look behind the curtain and make sure that cable companies are providing the services that do not violate an open internet. And there is a reason that cable companies don’t want to follow these rules, because they want to make more money.
I get it. They want to make more money.
But I would say that, with 40% of Americans having no choice in who they buy internet services from, we have to be much more vigilant.
These companies have several vertically integrated companies at the top, and they are seeking to amass more and more content. And that could give them the tools again to block content, to slow it down, or to “X” out a competitor if they so choose.
I don’t want to see the FCC sitting on the sidelines and not policing this kind of environment. I know that AT&T now is trying to merge with Time Warner, and these large companies, they want to continue to amass content and to drive the marketplace. But the American consumer’s satisfaction with these big companies is at an all-time low. Do they think that they’re going to do the right thing on their own? Do they think cable companies will do that?
Well, the cable industry ranks at the very bottom of 43 industries in consumer satisfaction. In fact, it has been in the dead-last position for five years. So does the public think that they’re doing the right things when it comes to them or their businesses? I think that that survey says it all. They have great concern.
And what are the reasons that cable companies give for why they don’t want to follow net neutrality rules? [T]hey say, it will hurt their investment in networks.
Well, I guess I’d ask a question — did the Obama-era FCC rules slow down investment? No, it didn’t. Big cable companies continued to make investment in their networks. And the year following the rule that went into place, the entire industry shows that the total capital expenditures increased by more than $550 million above the previous year’s investment.
For example, in the 2017 earnings report, Comcast, the nation’s largest broadband provider, noted that it’s capital expenditures increased 7.5%, $9 billion, and that it continued to make deployment in platforms like the X1 and wireless gateways. Likewise, AT&T spent $22 billion in capital investments, up $20 billion from the previous year. In fact, 2016 represents the industry’s highest single year jump in broadband network investment since 1999.
So the notion that they are somehow going to slow down on investment is just not true. The historic growth came after companies had a full year to digest the impacts of Title 2 and net neutrality rules being put in place by the Obama-era FCC.
So where are we today? Well, these companies continue to make money and they want a free pass on continuing to make more.
That is why our goal is not the profits of big cable companies.
Our goal to make sure that the internet economy continues to grow and the juggernaut of job creation and innovation continues to expand.
We want the internet ecosystem that has doubled as a percentage of GDP from 2007 to 2017 to continue to grow. As I said, in my state it’s about 13% of our state’s economy and I spend practically every day in the United States Senate hearing about another innovation from someone in my state.
It may be the farm economy and more efficient ways to produce product or get product to market or manage their livestock. It might be in telemedicine, in helping someone from one side of the state to the other to get access to care.
It may be as basic as connecting people to their families and loved ones. But it is the internet that we know today and it is so integral to our lives.
Well, I hope that the common sense legislation in front of us, the CRA, which would restore those Obama-era FCC net neutrality rules, passes. I hope that our colleagues will understand that getting exorbitant internet fees from cable providers is not the direction the American people want to go. American entrepreneurs, innovators, and consumers cannot afford to take that hit. What they want to see is an open internet, one that continues to allow so much more of the internet economy to flourish.
Let’s make sure that we say to the FCC, we don’t want you folding or sitting on your hands. We want you to police the internet and we want you to have the rules to do it. That is why we must pass the CRA today and I hope our colleagues on the other side of the aisle will join us because there is just too much at stake in our innovation economy. I thank the President, and I yield the floor.