Librarians and the Pope: Both Devoted to Net Neutrality

The battle in Congress over access to the Internet is heating up.

On Wednesday, Republican leaders in the House and Senate introduced a resolution that would effectively end any semblance of net neutrality. In theory, net neutrality means that Internet Service Providers (ISP) could not restrict a paying customer’s access to the Internet. A new rule proposed by the FCC was meant to strike a balance between some ISP’s desire to control access as much as possible and and most users’ preference for unfettered access.

At the same time, California Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, released letters from a variety Net-Neutral supporters.

Here are a few clips.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)

The USCCB is committed to the concept that the Internet continue as it has developed, that is, as an open Internet. The Internet is an indispensable medium for Catholics – and others with principled values – to convey views on matters of public concern and religious teachings. USCCB is concerned that Congress is contemplating eliminating the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to regulate how the companies controlling the infrastructure connecting people to the Internet will offer those connections.

Pope Benedict XVI, recently stated, “Believers who bear witness to their most profound convictions greatly help prevent the web from becoming an instrument which …… allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others.”

The American Library Association

We rely upon the public availability of open, affordable Internet access for school homework assignments, distance learning classes, e-government services, licensed databases, job-training videos, medical and scientific research, and many other essential services. It is essential that the Internet remains a network neutral environment so that libraries and higher education institutions have the freedom to create and provide innovative information services that are central to the growth and development of our democratic culture.

Small Internet companies (including Happy Mutants, LLC, owner of the popular website, Boing Boing)

The Open Internet allowed our businesses to open. As we grow we rely on the Internet as an open platform to expand. Each one of us is proof that the Open Internet increases opportunities for businesses large and small to compete and grow regardless of origin, location, or corporate affiliation. An Open Internet allows us to reach our customers at any place and at any time, and to grow rapidly as demand increases. We can do all of this without asking permission from gatekeepers or incumbent competitors. An Open Internet is an engine for economic growth, innovation, and job creation.

(You can read these and other letters supporting net neutrality on Waxman’s website.)

A trio of Republican Congressmen are set to wipe net neutrality off the regulatory map with a rarely-used maneuver, the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The three are Representatives Lee Terry (NB), Greg Walden (OR) and Fred Upton (MI). Upton is the incoming chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which began hearings on the issue yesterday.

Here’s Upton on his reasons for opposing the FCC’s recent attempt to uphold partial net neutrality:

The FCC’s hostile actions toward innovation, investment and job creation cannot be allowed to stand. We must use every resource available, including the Congressional Review Act, to strike down the FCC’s brazen effort to regulate the Internet. Today’s vote is a sad commentary that this administration and the FCC continue to ignore the will of the American people – our new majority is committed to protecting personal liberty and reducing the size and scope of the government.

More by net-neutral opponents, here.

The CRA allows Congress to overturn rules created by federal agencies, using a joint resolution made under an expedited process and requiring a simple majority.

Waxman’s office released a statement this afternoon citing broad support for net neutrality: “The FCC received more than 100,000 comments from more than 2 million people during its rulemaking process—90 percent of whom were in favor of open Internet rules.”

With billions of dollars and the future of the Internet at stake, the battle will grow more intense in the coming weeks.

(This post first appeared in Forbes.com)

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