Net neutrality, e-rate hot topics again in Washington

Telecommunications policy has figured prominently in the Washington Office’s work recently. Most visibly, ALA participated actively with scores of other organizations, companies and trade associations in a nationwide “Day of Action” on July 12 to let the Federal Communications Commission know that we strongly oppose its pending anti-net neutrality proposal and filed initial comments (joined by American Association of Law Libraries and COSLA) with the FCC to that effect. Recently, both the House and Senate held committee hearings at which we anticipated ALA priority issues– most notably net neutrality and potential changes in the E-rate program – being prominently discussed, as they were. We worked with key members of Congress serving on these committees to submit questions and background material ahead of the hearings to be placed in their official records. More on these strategic committee meetings follows:

Senate Holds Nominations Hearings for Three FCC Commissioners

The Senate Commerce committee recently held a hearing on three nominees to the FCC who would fill out the current vacancies at the Commission. Two of those tapped, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and former FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, are well known to the Senate and ALA. The third nominee, Brendan Carr, has not previously served as a Commissioner though he has been an attorney at the Commission since 2012. All three nominees are expected to be confirmed by the Senate.

ALA noted with interest the dialogue surrounding E-rate and net neutrality at the hearing. While all three nominees agreed that E-rate continues to be an important conduit for affordable broadband to libraries and schools, Chairman Pai and nominee Carr declined to commit to maintaining its present funding level or to taking a “hands-off” approach to changing E-rate modernization orders just adopted in 2015 and not yet fully implemented. Rosenworcel, a longtime supporter of the E-rate program, noted that “the future belongs to the connected. No matter who you are or where you live in the country, you need access to modern communication for a fair shot at 21st century success.”

Chairman Pai also declined to commit to any firm position on net neutrality as the Commission has only just begun to reviewing the millions of public comments just submitted on his proposal to effectively reverse current law assuring net neutrality and strongly backed by ALA.

FCC Oversight and Reauthorization at House Subcommittee

The three sitting FCC Commissioners – Chairman Ajit Pai, Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Mike O’Reilly – appeared last week before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. They addressed a range of telecommunications issues with net neutrality figuring especially prominently in the hearing. The Commissioners received numerous questions on the issue from both Republicans and Democrats on the Subcommittee. As Reads: "because the internet shouldn't have a slow lane. libraries transform"noted above, ALA continues to oppose any legislation that would reverse the 2015 FCC Open Internet Order.

At the hearing, full Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) expressed interest in bi-partisan legislation to address net neutrality. Chairman Walden noted that “it’s time for Congress to call a halt on the back-and-forth and set clear net neutrality ground rules for the internet.” There appears, however, to be very little interest among Democratic members in joining the Chairman.

Several senior Subcommittee Democrats criticized the FCC proposed rule to reverse the 2015 Order. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) questioned “Why change the existing regime where everyone agrees that there is an open internet?” Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) criticized Chairman Pai for proceeding on “an agenda that is anti-consumer, anti-small business, anti-competition, anti-innovation, and anti-opportunity.” Also echoing ALA’s position on net neutrality were Senior Democrats Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA).

Congresswoman Eshoo recently hosted a net neutrality roundtable in her California district. Director of Redwood City Public Library Derek Wolfgram joined the panel to discuss the importance of net neutrality for libraries.

The House Subcommittee also questioned the FCC commissioners on a discussion draft of legislation that would reauthorize the Commission. The Republican draft, not yet introduced, would reauthorize the FCC through 2022 and implement procedural changes at the Commission. The FCC was last reauthorized in 1990.

ALA will continue to work with E-rate and net neutrality supporters in the House and Senate over the coming months. Stay tuned as these issues develop.

About Kevin Maher

Kevin Maher is the deputy director of Government Relations. His portfolio includes federal appropriations and telecommunications issues. Previously, Kevin worked in congressional affairs for the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the U.S. Travel Association.

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