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Pro net neutrality advocates take on US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Most Americans -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- want the return of net neutrality, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won't give the Save the Internet Act its day in the US Senate.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

A year ago, net neutrality died. It was murdered by big telecom and its political allies. No one outside of these companies and their friends like this or wanted it. According to a survey by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland, "86% oppose the repeal of net neutrality, including 82% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats."

Support from both blue and red

Another poll from tech research company Comparitech found 80% of Americans support net neutrality. In this survey, almost 87% of Democrats and 77% of Republicans supported net neutrality. I'm hard-pressed to think of any other issue that gets so much support from both blue and red voters in these days of heated political debate.

Despite this bi-partisan support, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shown no interest in giving the Save the Internet Act a vote -- never mind supporting it. In the House, it passed with a majority of Democrats and a single Republican vote.

Now, Senator Elizabeth Warren and other pro-net neutrality spokespeople are calling out McConnell.

Warrent tweeted: "The House passed the #SaveTheInternet Act to restore #NetNeutrality, & @senatemajldr buried it in his legislative graveyard. The internet doesn't belong to giant companies – it belongs to all of us. I'm joining @SenMarkey & @SenateDems to demand a vote for a free & open internet."

According to Demand Progress, another net neutrality organization, McConnell was presented with 3.5 million petitions and comments "in support of strong open internet protections."

Is this much ado about nothing?

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican and former Verizon Associate General Counsel, recently claimed "investment in our nation's broadband networks rose in 2018 for a second straight year, with an estimated increase of $3 billion."

But that's not what the Financial Times, which has no dog in this fight, found. By studying financial reports, they found Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and Charter slightly cut their capital infrastructure expenditures -- from $57.1 billion to 56.9 billion.

"Verizon, Comcast, and Charter invested less in their networks after the net neutrality rules were repealed," observed Gigi Sohn, a Distinguished Fellow at Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and a former advisor to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.  "And AT&T recently announced that it would do the same."

You might ask, "It's been a year, what's so bad about not having net neutrality?" Is this much ado about nothing?" Look more closely.

According to Public Knowledge, the ISPs are slowly, but surely, taking advantage of their freedom to increase their profits at the expense of consumers and rival companies:

  • AT&T and Verizon both torture the meaning of the word "unlimited" by offering multiple unlimited plans. But the more expensive ones are either paired with the company's own streaming service, or the companies degrade the quality of the video under certain conditions. These practices may give the carrier's content an advantage in the marketplace over smaller, independent video producers.
  • Sprint has been throttling internet traffic to Microsoft's Skype service, causing the video quality to be poorer than it should be, which is especially worrisome because Skype is a tool that competes with Sprint's calling service. These are only two examples of how companies can favor their own content over competitors' without rules forbidding this behavior.
  • Comcast has new speed limits where videos will be throttled to 480p on all its mobile plans unless customers pay extra.
  • A recent study showed that the largest US telecom companies, including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, are slowing down internet traffic from apps like YouTube and Netflix.
  • Verizon's throttling of services even affect the Santa Clara County Fire Department's ability to provide emergency services during the California wildfires. The fire department experienced slowed down speeds on their devices and had to sign up for a new, expensive plan before speeds were restored.
  • Other examples continue to show that internet companies have already used the lack of net neutrality rules to their advantage to make money and block certain content.

Dead on arrival in the Senate

It sure looks to me like there's something rotten in the internet of the US.

Despite all this and all the protests, there won't be a vote in the Senate. Earlier, McConnell declared the bill "dead on arrival in the Senate." There's no reason to think he's changed his mind.

McConnell rules the Senate with an iron fist. He has no interest in letting any issue he opposes get a vote -- even if his own voters support net neutrality.

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