House Dems Meet to Oppose Verizon on Net Neutrality Challenge

Reps. Trying to Enlist More Colleagues in First Amendment Legal Argument

Some House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats and staffers are meeting Wednesday afternoon to talk about what they call the "troubling" First Amendment argument being made by Verizon in its lawsuit challenging the FCC's Open Internet Order.

They are troubled by Verizon's assertion that it has the First Amendment right to decide what goes over their networks. If the court agreed, they argue, it would undermine Congress' ability to enact communications policy. 

The briefing, entitled "Should Telecom Companies Edit the Internet?," was being promoted in a "dear colleague" letter (see below) by Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman (Calif.), ranking Communications Subcommittee member Anna Eshoo (Calif.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Michael Doyle (Pa.), and Doris Matsui (Calif.).

Among the speakers at the briefing will be former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, who joined an amicus brief in the suit backing the FCC and taking issue with the First Amendment argument).

It is the second "dear colleague" letter from Waxman, Markey and Eshoo taking aim at the argument.

"Verizon has been a longtime advocate for an open Internet, and is the only Internet Service Provider that voluntarily adopted such policies," a Verizon spokesman told Multichannel News when that first letter was being circulated. "Our filing makes clear that we remain concerned that the FCC's sweeping assertion in this case exceeds its statutory authority and constitutional limits."

The letter follows.

Dear Colleague:

We want to make sure that you and your staff are aware of the below invitation for a briefing scheduled for this Wednesday, November 28 at 3:30pm. This briefing will examine a troubling First Amendment argument being advanced as part of a case filed by Verizon to overturn the Open Internet Order adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2010.

Despite widespread support of the FCC's Open Internet Order, Verizon is arguing before the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that broadband providers have a right to decide what they transmit online and that those business decisions are tantamount to speech deserving First Amendment protection.

As strong believers in the necessity of a free and open Internet, we have championed "rules of the road" that protect consumer choice and innovation online. We worked on open Internet legislation in previous Congresses and supported the Open Internet Order adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2010. We were joined by major broadband providers, technology companies, labor unions, and civil rights groups who all supported the FCC's action.  

This briefing will highlight the startling constitutional arguments being made in the D.C. Circuit and how the role of Congress in enacting communications policy could be radically undermined.

We hope you or your staff will be able to attend this event.