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Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a member of the House Communications Subcommittee, made that claim over the weekend during an interview on C-SPAN’s “Communicators” program. She asserted that “over 300 members of Congress signed a letter to the FCC expressing concern over the FCC’s power grab,” that others interpret as protecting consumers and helping to secure an open Internet.
The mythical “300” is one of the main talking points from the anti-Net Neutrality Caucus. It will be heard more loudly in January when her party takes over the House and conducts its oversight hearing in the Energy and Commerce Committee on Network Neutrality. There is one problem with that talking point –the 300-member army ready to rally against the Federal Communications Commission does not exist.
To start, the message of “overwhelming” bipartisan opposition relies heavily on the telephone and cable companies’ concentrated effort to lobby against Title II reclassification over this last year, claiming that reclassification would negatively impact “jobs and investment,” and failing to address how the agency would continue protecting broadband consumers. Just look at Rep. Gene Green’s (D-Tex.) letter to the FCC against reclassification. This letter is the primary source of the supposed Democratic “opposition” to Network Neutrality, yet it does not even mention Network Neutrality.
In fact, many Members who signed onto the letter have supported Network Neutrality and even Green himself stated clearly these Members were only concerned with Title II reclassification, a completely separate issue. The attack on Network Neutrality continues to falter when opponents to Title II reclassification such as Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Rep. John Dingell go (D-Mich.) through great lengths to reinforce their support for Network Neutrality in their letters opposing Title II reclassification. Even longtime Democratic Network Neutrality opponent Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) stated that the FCC has made the “right decision at this time.”
Also keep in mind that 306 Members of Congress voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus bill) that contained very clear language that broadband networks (yes BOTH wired and wireless) were to adhere to the “to the principles contained in the Commission’s broadband policy statement” that outlined Network Neutrality .
There was no heroic defense of a broadband providers “right” to pick winners and losers on the Internet during consideration of that legislation in 2009. It is also important to note that Congressional attempts to outlaw Network Neutrality killed the last attempt to rewrite the Communications Act in 2006 in the U.S. Senate when partisan opponents of an open Internet collided with an equal level of bipartisan support for an open Internet.
So how many Members are opposed to Network Neutrality? The fact is no one will know until there is a vote in Congress on specific legislation. The specifics are important because details matter.
It’s clear the Obama Administration (which was elected by a majority of the public) supports Network Neutrality. The issue enjoys bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate based on past precedent and will likely encounter bipartisan opposition in the new House, although it is increasingly questionable just how bipartisan.
Anyone who purports to see “overwhelming” bipartisan opposition to Network Neutrality up in the mythical 300 range is intentionally inflating their support in hopes of bullying the FCC into doing what the anti-open Internet crowd planned from the start – to allow gatekeepers to change the Internet so that it would no longer be the marketplace of ideas where no central authority, public or private, has the power to pick winners and losers.