Heller on the spot

His vote could decide net neutrality

The cost of internet “fast lanes” could shoot up unless Congress acts to protect net neutrality.

The cost of internet “fast lanes” could shoot up unless Congress acts to protect net neutrality.

It was probably the last thing Dean Heller wanted in a reelection year—a vote that can show him supporting higher internet costs for Nevadans while rewarding some of his biggest campaign contributors. It is also likely to drive a niche group of highly motivated voters to the polls, where they will vote on just one issue.

Democrats in the Senate have taken a little-used step—a discharge petition—to pry a measure out of committee and force a vote on the Senate floor on it. The bill deals with net neutrality, a policy that provides for equal treatment of all internet users. The Federal Communications Commission has set in motion a repeal of net neutrality, enabling corporate internet services to charge higher rates for their fastest services. The Senate bill would keep net neutrality in place.

The vote may have been resolved by the time this report hits print. At press time, just to increase the pressure on Heller, Russell Brandom at the Verge reported that supporters of net neutrality say they already have 50 confirmed votes to tie the issue in the 100-member senate, 49 Senate Democrats, plus Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). They are now watching to see if one of two Republicans—Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana or Heller will switch sides to provide the 51st vote.

But with Republican Sen. John McCain convalescing, there might not be a tie, which would put the Senate at 50 to 49 in favor of net neutrality.

A little additional heat for Heller is coming from news coverage by both local (Nevada Independent) and national (Patch.com) media entities of the money Heller has received from firms like AT&T, Comcast and Viacom.

Comcast gave not a cent to Heller’s Democratic opponent Jacky Rosen but $10,000 to Heller. Cox Communications was more generous to Rosen—$2,500 to her but more than twice that to Heller, $5,500. Verizon? Rosen: $0. Heller: $7,500. And so it went with only AT&T giving Rosen more than Heller—$500 to $1,000. According to America’s Internet, a pro-net neutrality political committee, Heller is approaching half a million dollars in telecommunications contributions.

While Heller is being watched to see if he switches to support net neutrality, that would be the equivalent of a political cataclysm. Heller has been pushing hard to get rid of the policy for years.

In 2011, a Heller Facebook posting read, “The net neutrality rule will cost Nevada and the nation good paying jobs and should be overturned.”

In 2014, he reacted to an endorsement by President Obama of keeping net neutrality in place by issuing a prepared statement: “The President’s approach takes dynamic technology and turns it into another utility like electricity and water. And just like power and water, today’s internet would become stagnant instead of remaining vibrant. This approach fails to recognize the world has changed for the better, not because of regulation but in spite of it. We need a new telecommunications law empowering consumers by promoting robust competition in the broad internet sphere. We need to encourage new participants, not limit them. The free market rewards innovation and drives more investment to create jobs and economic growth. Most importantly, we need to ensure consumers are adequately protected from demonstrated market failures and not hypothetical ones.”

In February, Rosen signed on as a cosponsor of a House measure that would allow Congress to overturn the FCC action. At the time, she said, “This [Trump] administration’s reckless decision to repeal net neutrality gives internet service providers the ability to stack the deck against Nevada’s hardworking families and small businesses who could be forced to pay more to connect to an internet with slower speeds.”

Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei were the targets in Nevada last year of advertising that attacked them on a related issue, their votes let companies sell information like browsing histories about their customers, a vote that would have stopped the FCC from requiring telecommunications companies to obtain consent from customers for those sales.

Billboards read, “Heller betrayed you. He took $345,250 from telecoms, then he voted to let them sell your web history without your permission. Ask him why, call: 775-738-2001 FIGHT FOR THE FUTURE SaveBroadbandPrivacy.org.”