Virginia senators, area representatives split on net neutrality debate

Local and state politicians have carved out clear and opposing positions on the net neutrality debate, which came to a head Dec. 14 when the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to remove existing regulations on internet service providers.

Tim Kaine, Democratic senator from Virginia, has been particularly outspoken against the FCC’s decision. He joined 38 other U.S. senators in the days leading up to the vote urging the FCC’s chairman to end the commission’s “reckless plan to radically alter the free and open internet as we know it.”

The vote proceeded regardless, and successfully removed net neutrality regulations. Later that day, Kaine tweeted a tongue-in-cheek message to illustrate potential repercussions of the FCC’s action, with line breaks between every word or two.

“Thanks to / this vote / one day / it may / take / this long / for this / content / to / load / or you / may / never / get to / see it / at all,/ Horrible step backwards for a free and open internet.” the tweet read.

Kaine announced Monday that he was co-sponsoring a resolution under the Congressional Review Act with U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, to reverse the FCC’s decision on net neutrality, reinstating the regulations on internet service providers that the Obama-era FCC ordered in 2015.

“The Trump Administration’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules takes power away from consumers and hands it to large telecomm companies, allowing them to control the flow of information on the Internet,” Kaine stated in the news release announcing the resolution. “Passing our Congressional Review Act resolution would restore these rules and ensure the internet remains a free and open resource.”

The Congressional Review Act, passed in 1996 under House Speaker Newt Gingrich, grants Congress the ability to overrule federal regulations.

Sen. Mark Warner, also a Democrat from Virginia, chimed in on the conversation ahead of the vote to criticize the FCC’s proposed action.

“The FCC Chairman has decided to move forward to repeal net neutrality rules without any plan in place to uphold longstanding open internet principles supported by both Democratic and Republican Administrations,” Warner stated in a Nov. 24 news release. “I am deeply concerned that the FCC’s current plan would amount to a green light for potential anti-competitive practices by certain internet service providers, with the Chairman signaling the Commission’s unwillingness to protect consumers and small businesses from potential abuse.”

Warner’s official Senate website describes him as “an early investor in the cellular telephone business” and co-founder of a company that eventually transformed into Nextel.

Warner also “invested in hundreds of start-up technology companies that created tens of thousands of jobs,” the website says.

Warner has not publicly announced whether or not he would support Kaine’s resolution, and was not immediately available for comment.

Unlike Virginia’s senators, area representatives have expressed their strong support for the FCC’s decision, citing what they perceive as pro-business benefits of deregulating broadband internet providers.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke,  issued a statement on Dec. 14 praising the FCC’s action, arguing that by stripping regulations from internet service providers, the companies will be able to build their infrastructure and benefit consumers.

“I want to thank FCC Chairman Pai for liberating internet service providers and small businesses from the stranglehold of overly burdensome regulations. The Restoring Internet Freedom Order will encourage investment in internet infrastructure, promote competition, and ultimately benefit consumers,” Goodlatte’s release stated. “Having said that, we must continue to make sure that anti-competitive and discriminatory conduct on the internet is deterred and punished, and I look forward to continuing to work to make sure our laws, including our antitrust laws, protect against this conduct.”

Jeff Marschner, deputy chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, issued a statement in support of the FCC’s ruling.

“Since 2015, when the Obama heavy-handed Internet regulation went into effect, we have seen a drop in Internet investment of $3.6 billion,” the Dec. 15 statement read. “Prior to 2015, consumers were protected by the Federal Trade Commission Act, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Clayton Act, plus other laws too and Internet companies flourished.

“Consumers will continue to be protected by law after Thursday’s FCC vote. The private sector has proved far better than the government at developing choices and lowering prices for consumers. The Congresswoman wants to spur investment and access to broadband services in rural and low-income areas to allow more constituents and small businesses access to the Internet and to continue this great success story for all.”

When the Obama-era FCC originally instituted net neutrality rules by a 3-2 vote, Comstock criticized the action for its non-legislative, majoritarian ruling.

Decisions of this magnitude should not be issued by FCC 3-2 rulings, rather Congress should debate and make the people’s voice heard on such a critical issue like net neutrality,” read a 2015 news release from Comstock.

In an email to the Northern Virginia Daily, Marschner stated that Comstock supports formalizing net neutrality rules through congressional action.

“This latest FCC action was reversing that 2015 FCC action and if there is a change then it should be handled by the legislative branch,” Marschner wrote.

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