By Mason Johnson
With net neutrality effectively neutered, Internet service providers (ISPs) starting to do as they please and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) attempting to create new rules for broadband Internet, now is a good time to take stock of those who support an open Internet and those who don’t.
But first, let’s talk about net neutrality.
Net neutrality is a simple concept: it’s the idea that big companies that provide Internet have to treat all websites as equals. If you think you have a grasp on what that means to regular Joes like you and me, go ahead and keep reading. If you’re not quite certain what net neutrality is or why it matters, click here for a quick and dirty explanation.
Where Our Politicians Stand
After nearly a decade, Congress has failed to pass any substantial bills on net neutrality, despite multiple attempts. This has consistently put the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a precarious position, stuck regulating something Congress has failed to come to grips with. While the future of net neutrality is currently in the hands of the FCC in the form of a proposal few seem to like, it’s still important to know where our representatives stand on the subject, especially if we ever want more concrete and clearcut net neutrality laws in this country.
So let’s find out what they think of net neutrality, and if we don’t like it, let’s tell them.
Senator Mark Kirk has consistently voted against net neutrality in Congress. In 2006, while still a U.S. Representative, Kirk voted no on an amendment sought for Title VII of the Communication Act of 1934, which would have made certain Internet providers did not discriminate when it came to Internet quality.
In 2011, Senator Kirk was a cosponsor on joint resolution S.J. Res. 6, which attempted to prohibit FCC net neutrality rules from having any effect. Though it passed in the House, the Senate would go on to defeat it.
Mark Kirk was against PIPA, which sought to give the government and copyright holders, through the power of the Attorney General, the ability to take down any websites that they felt contributed to Internet piracy or broke copyright laws, giving the government and companies far more leverage than individuals (though to be clear, while PIPA and net neutrality are both a matter of Internet rights, they are very different. PIPA is mostly a matter of copyright law, piracy and freedom of expression, while net neutrality represents a broader view of how ISPs should treat consumers). In a letter stating why he opposed PIPA, Kirk said, “The extreme measures taken in PIPA not only stifle First Amendment rights but also hamper innovation on the Internet.”
This is an admirable sentiment, which makes Kirk’s stance against net neutrality slightly confusing. Without net neutrality, ISPs will have the ability to easily affect traffic to any and all websites. Companies will be able to crush an individual’s freedom of speech with ease. Is that not also a danger?
So, sadly, Mark Kirk is no friend of net neutrality.
Dick Durbin’s track record with net neutrality seems to be the opposite of Mark Kirk’s (not surprising, I suppose).
Durbin was a cosponsor on the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2007 (along with a young Senator named Barack Obama), which would ensure Internet providers didn’t interfere with or discriminate against the ability of any individual to use broadband Internet.
Durbin also voted against the pesky S.J. Res. 6, which, as you might remember, attempted to prohibit FCC net neutrality rules from having any effect.
Oddly enough, Durbin was a cosponsor of PIPA despite the possibility that it could infringe an Internet user’s rights.
In 2007, Durbin participated in a project that sought the suggestions and ideas of the public for a national broadband policy bill. It’s hard to tell if he took anything away from that dialogue. While he’s been a supporter of net neutrality, his views on PIPA seem contradictory, and he certainly hasn’t waded into the net neutrality fight lately.
Mostly, Durbin seems to be on net neutrality’s side.
In 2006, the following Illinois U.S. Representatives (along with Mark Kirk) voted against network neutrality by voting no on an amendment to Title VII of the Communication Act of 1934, which sought to ensure that Internet providers don’t discriminate when it comes to Internet content and quality:
Danny K. Davis
The following U.S. Representatives stood up for net neutrality by voting for the amendment:
In 2011, both the House and the Senate voted on joint resolution S.J. Res. 6, which sought to basically cripple the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Here are the U.S. Representatives who voted for this anti-net neutrality joint resolution:
Here are the Representatives who supported net neutrality by voting against the joint resolution:
Danny K. Davis
Having been around since 1993, it’s interesting to look at Bobby Rush’s history with net neutrality. In 2006, he readily voted and spoke against net neutrality. With that said, he also voted against the anti-net neutrality joint resolution, S.J. Res. 6. Making things more complicated, he’s taken thousands of dollars of contributions from AT&T — one of his largest contributors. He’s taken in so much money from telecommunication companies, that in 2010, according to Wired, the African-American web-based organization Color of Change expressed “grave doubts that Congressman Rush is capable of being an honest broker on important telecommunications matters.”
So he’s far from a friend of net neutrality, but he hasn’t always been against it.
U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky is definitely a friend of net neutrality. Schakowsky was a cosponsor on the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008, which sought to set more policy that would help protect Internet users from Internet providers. Sadly, the bill never made it out of committee. The Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009, cosponsored by Jan Schakowsky yet again, also found itself stuck in committee hell.
What’s particularly interesting is that Rush and Schakowsky are both Democrats. When you draw a division between party lines, Democrats are usually in support of net neutrality, with Republicans opposing the idea. Clearly, this isn’t something that’s set in stone.
Unfortunately, outside of voting records, it’s difficult to tell exactly what all the U.S. Representatives in Illinois think, especially the newer ones. And though I’ve contacted some, I’ve yet to hear anything back. You should, without a doubt, contact them too.
Make yourself heard by contacting congress. The overwhelming response from recent changes has already influenced the FCC’s newest proposal, even if the changes have been almost negligible. Congress may be making no headway with net neutrality, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask them to help start new legislature on it, or can’t tell them how you, their constituent, feel about this subject. It just might help the next time they have to vote on it.
Whatever you do, do something. We’re not just talking about our rights to have a sweet connection when watching Road House on Netflix. We’re talking about an individual’s ability to have a voice.
… And cat videos. We’re also talking about cute cat videos.