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VTDigger: Welch to Introduce Legislation to Block Net Neutrality Rollback

January 16, 2018
In The News

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and other lawmakers in Congress plan to introduce legislation blocking a recent decision abolishing net neutrality regulations.

The Federal Communications Commission voted in December to roll back Obama-era rules that required internet service providers to give consumers equal access to all content on the internet.

FCC Chair Ajit Pai, who sponsored the move, argued that rolling back the rules restored a “light touch regulation” approach to the internet and will encourage more competition in the market, encouraging broadband providers to invest in expansion to rural areas.

Some argue that the new FCC policy will enable internet service providers to better manage the demands of high-usage websites in the future.

However, Welch said Friday that the Obama-era net neutrality policy protected the interests of the American public. Opponents fear that scrapping net neutrality will lead to some websites being loaded more slowly than others.

“This is a regulation that has proven to be very effective to protect consumers, to protect speech, and to give opportunity to entrepreneurs,” he said.

At a roundtable with Vermonters Friday, Welch heard from the head of a major internet company, a librarian and an artist who support net neutrality.

“It was striking the range of creative activities that were dependent on the internet,” Welch said.

Many Vermont businesses have raised concerns about lifting net neutrality regulations, particularly for those in rural areas.

“What they fear, and mind you rightly so, is that there would be a slow lane and a fast lane” for internet service, he said. Under the new FCC guidelines, internet service providers could potentially significantly slow access to some websites, or block services entirely.

Welch plans to sponsor legislation with others in Congress that would use a procedure that allows legislators to block a rule issued by an agency by a majority vote.

The bill will be introduced once the FCC rule is formally issued, which Welch expects will be in the near future.

While Welch believes that there is broad support for net neutrality across the country and across party lines, he is not optimistic that the bill will move forward in Congress under current leadership.

A member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees this issue, Welch said he is not sure that there is enough support to move the legislation forward.

“Internet service providers have a lot of power in the committee and there’s an ideological hostility toward any regulation,” he said.