Net neutrality advocates are ramping up pressure on a top Democrat to support stronger regulations on Internet providers.
On Wednesday, national progressive groups urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to get behind reclassifying broadband as a utility — a move that would give regulators at the Federal Communications Commission much greater authority to ban Internet fast lanes.
The liberal groups argued in a letter that allowing the FCC's current net neutrality proposal to move forward would make it harder for activists, artists and journalists to do their jobs.
"We urge you to — as soon as possible — publicly call on Chairman [Tom] Wheeler and his FCC to reclassify Internet service as a telecommunications service under Title II and implement strong net neutrality regulations that will ban all unreasonable technical discrimination (and define pay-to-play arrangements as inherently unreasonable)," according to the letter, which was signed by groups including MoveOn, CREDO, SumofUS and Daily Kos.
Altogether, the letter's signatories claim to represent 10 million people -- and 100,000 of Reid's own Nevada constituents. It's not hard to see why they'd target Reid. As the head of his party in the Senate, Reid has the power to set the body's agenda, and pressuring the Senate leadership might counter other lawmakers who've been openly resisted the idea of reclassification.
"Leaders like Senator Reid rely on netroots activists to support the progressive legislative agenda," said David Segal, the executive director of the group Demand Progress. "But we need to know that we can count on Majority Leader Reid to be there for us."
But even if Reid is receptive to the letter, it's unclear how much he can do. The senator has largely avoided wading into tech policy so far. To the extent that he's gotten involved, it's been to help undermine legislation on patents. And Congress is already lagging behind on a number of other tech issues, so it's unlikely a net neutrality bill of any kind, for or against, will get to the president's desk this year.
So everyone used Snowden as an excuse to delay a cyber bill and now lawmakers worry they're running out of time? http://t.co/gqpEGYCQBi
— Brian Fung (@b_fung) May 29, 2014
There are other challenges, too. It's an election year, which makes compromise even more difficult in an already divided Congress. And asking Reid to weigh in rhetorically on net neutrality is largely an indirect form of pressure, as the FCC is an independent agency.
That said, it's hard to see what liberals have to lose by targeting Reid, especially if there's even the slightest chance it'll pay off.