November 19, 2021

Wyden, Markey Applaud Department of Agriculture for Correctly Prioritizing Broadband Applicants that Follow Net Neutrality Principles

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), this week wrote U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to support his recent decision to offer additional points to applicants to the department’s ReConnect Program who commit to following net neutrality principles.

The ReConnect Program furnishes critical loans and grants to provide funds for the costs of construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in rural, Tribal, and underserved areas in Oregon and nationwide. Net neutrality is a set of principles necessary to keep the internet open to all and free of discriminatory practices by powerful broadband providers. Net neutrality rules forbid internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing down customers’ internet access; charging websites to reach users at quicker speeds; and instituting other unjust, unreasonable, and discriminatory practices. Net neutrality rules benefit consumers, promote free speech, and enrich the economy by making the internet a fair playing field where entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes can thrive.

“In evaluating applications for funding, the Department astutely decided that internet service providers that commit to following net neutrality would receive a leg up in their review,” the senators wrote.  “We wholeheartedly agree with your approach and hope other agencies will follow your excellent example.”

The senators continue: “In 2021, broadband has demonstrated that it is essential for nearly every facet of daily life…These trends have made the need for strong net neutrality protections even more urgent, as reliance on the internet for education, health care, commerce, and community work has skyrocketed.  The potential harms that internet users face without strong net neutrality protections are more sweeping than ever.”

Wyden and Markey previously introduced the Save the Internet Act, which enacts the three legacy net neutrality principles – no blocking, no throttling and no paid prioritization – and empowers the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to prohibit unjust, unreasonable and discriminatory practices.  The Save the Internet Act codifies the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order in a similar manner to the lawmakers’ 2018 Congressional Review Act that passed the Senate and had bipartisan support in the House.

A copy of this letter is here.