If Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) is chosen to succeed retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, net neutrality legislation will get a huge boost upsetting the GOP. Now that former boxer Reid has announced that he is ready to hang up his boxing gloves after over thirty years in Senate, all eyes are turning to his successor. The most likely candidate for this coveted spot appears to be Schumer, who is currently the third most powerful Senate Democrat. Harry Reid has already lended his support to his former deputy. “Chuck Schumer, everybody knows, has been my lieutenant for a lot of years,” Reid told KNPR Nevada public radio. “Schumer’s a brilliant man from New York and he’s been a tremendous asset to me.” Schumer has also already earned an endorsement from would be challenger Dick Durbin of Illinois the second-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership who has decided to remain in his current position as minority whip instead of seeking the top Senate Democratic spot. And while a few other names have been mentioned as potential successors to Reid including the number four Senate Democrat Patty Murray (D-Washington) who serves as the Senate Democratic Conference Secretary , Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) the vice chairwoman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Center (DPCC), and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, most bets seem to be on Schumer. If Schumer does get the nod, he is going to bring the net neutrality initiative front and center.
Schumer had previously actively lobbied the FCC to reclassify internet broadband providers as public utilities. “Reclassification is the best way to for us to preserve the internet as an unfettered tool for communication and the sharing of ideas.” he commented to a news outlet last July. Last month, when the FCC’s Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler put net neutrality to a commission vote, the results were 3-2 in favor with the Commission’s Democrats voting for the proposal and its Republicans opposing it. At the time, Schumer expressed his resounding support which is reflective of the Democratic stance on the issue. “An #OpenInternet spurs innovation, communication & economic growth. FCC’s vote for #NetNeutrality is a victory for all of us,” Schumer tweeted. Republicans, for the most part, are opposed to net neutrality on the premise that increased government control will stifle innovation, increase taxes and actually slow the speed of internet service delivery. Europe where the internet is treated as a public utility has repeatedly experienced the problem of slowed service.
Last week FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler defended the agency’s net neutrality proposal before five congressional committees; the House Oversight Committee, the Senate Commerce Committee, the House Commerce Committee, the House Appropriations Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. During the intense series of meetings, Chairman Wheeler endeavored to persuade his audience that the net neutrality legislation is needed to prevent internet service providers from having monopolies which employ blocking, throttling or paid prioritization techniques to limit the internet access of individuals or smaller organizational entities. He had to face off to tough questions such as those posed by House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia who cut off Wheeler when he failed to deliver a satisfactory response to Goodlatte’s questions of specific “harms” that had happened in the current internet marketplace and started directing questions to Ajit Pai, the FCC Republican Commissioner who opposes the neutrality proposal. According to Pai, Democrats on the commission did not vote on the net neutrality proposal based on the program’s merits or effectiveness, but because they were pressured by the Obama administration.
If Chuck Schumer does indeed take over for Harry Reid, Tom Wheeler will have a new friend in his efforts persuade a Republican controlled congress that the internet needs to be fixed to ensure adequate information access. But it will definitely be an uphill battle because net neutrality is not widely embraced by the American public. A Rasmussen poll conducted in November revealed that 61 % of Americans oppose government control of the internet. In addition 68% of those surveyed believe that if the government does get control they will use that control to influence content or promote a political agenda. Schumer will have his work cut for him.
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