SALT LAKE CITY — About 30 protesters gathered outside Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch's downtown office Tuesday to demand he join 50 other U.S. senators that have expressed their support of undoing recent federal changes to net neutrality rules.
The clock for a potential reversal of those changes, approved in December by the five-member Federal Communications Commission, began last week when the new rules were enrolled. That started a 60-day countdown for federal legislators, under the Congressional Review Act, to assess those changes and potentially undo them, requiring only a simple majority vote by both houses of Congress.
The FCC action returned internet service providers to their pre-2015 classification as information service companies, which comes with fewer rules and less stringent oversight than the Title II telecommunication designation that had been in place the previous two years.
Opponents say the changes will allow internet service providers to create different levels of service speeds, potentially throttling users' access to certain websites while offering optimized access to sites providers own or have paid agreements with.
Protest organizer Charlotte Maloney, who delivered letters from the group to a Hatch staffer at the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building, said the FCC rule changes undermine the rights of all U.S. internet users.
"The actions that the FCC took will allow big companies like Verizon and Comcast to control the internet," Maloney said. "It’s really, I think, a First Amendment issue. They are limiting our First Amendment rights to free speech as well as limiting our access to information."
Hatch's office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the effort, but Sen. Mike Lee, who has been publicly supportive of the FCC changes, provided a statement to the Deseret News reiterating his position.
"For over 30 years the Federal Trade Commission regulated the internet just fine,” Lee said. “No one has ever explained to me what was so bad with the internet in 2015 that the Federal Communications Commissions had to start regulating the internet in 2016.”
Net neutrality rules have been tracking with partisan sea changes in Washington over the past few years.
The 3-2 vote last year to approve the Restoring Internet Freedom proposal, crafted by Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai — a President Barack Obama appointee who was designated chairman by President Donald Trump in January 2017 — broke along party lines, mirroring the partisan split that favored Democrats when the Title II designation was approved in 2015.16 comments on this story
As of Tuesday, all 47 Democratic senators had signed on to the resolution of disapproval, as well as two independents and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. The effort is likely to face a tougher battle for votes in the House, where Republicans maintain a wider majority.
Protest participant and Magna resident Kevin Andrew Nelson said he thought internet regulation should be a politically neutral issue and that changes made by the FCC were intended to cede control to telecommunications power brokers.
"The corporations are not our voice," Nelson said. "The internet was funded with taxpayer dollars, that means it was funded with our voices. Every voice is equal in this nation but what they’re trying to do doesn’t add up to that."