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Small-business owners urge Hatch to support rollback of FCC net neutrality changes

FILE - Sen. Orrin Hatch speaks during the Utah Republican Party Nominating Convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, April 21, 2018.
FILE - Sen. Orrin Hatch speaks during the Utah Republican Party Nominating Convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, April 21, 2018.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Proponents of rolling back net neutrality changes aren't giving up the fight just yet and on Wednesday delivered a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, signed by over 6,000 U.S. small-business owners, urging him to support a resolution that could be before the Senate next week.

Changes to Obama-era net neutrality rules were approved on a 3-2 vote by the Federal Communication Commission late last year. The new rules have yet to take effect and a resolution under the Congressional Review Act, aimed at walking back the FCC decision, could soon have the signatures it needs to force a vote in the Senate, according to a Monday tweet from Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Senate Democrats say they'll have the support of all 49 of their party members as well as Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. As passage of the Congressional Review Act resolution only requires a simple majority, the effort will only need a single additional vote to get out of the Senate. Industry watchers believe the effort will have a much more difficult path through the House and, even in the event of passage by that body, would still need to earn a signature from President Donald Trump. That seems unlikely as Trump's appointee to chair the FCC, Ajit Pai, led the push to undo net neutrality rules.

A handful of Utah business owners joined net neutrality advocate Easton Smith Wednesday at the Wallace F. Bennett Building in downtown Salt Lake City, home to Hatch's Utah office, to hand-deliver a letter urging the senator to be the 51st vote. While Hatch was in Utah Wednesday, a staffer was sent to accept the letter which read, in part:

"We are companies who rely on the open internet to grow our business and reach customers online. We are asking Congress to issue a ‘Resolution of Disapproval’ to restore net neutrality and the other consumer protections that were lost when the (FCC) voted to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order in December 2017.

"Users and businesses need certainty that they will not be blocked, throttled or charged extra fees by internet service providers. We cannot afford to be left unprotected while Congress deliberates."

Smith said 52 Utah small-business owners had signed the letter and, based on those he had spoken with, their concern goes to maintaining a fair and level digital playing field upon which to compete.

"The reason that they support net neutrality is as a small business if you are trying to get word out about a product to your potential customers, you need to know that your internet is not going to be throttled by a competitor because they've struck a deal with an ISP," Smith said. "You need to make sure that you’re going to be able to have a free and open internet that allows everybody, not just the major corporations, to promote their own products."

Attorney Virginia Lee, who operates her own Salt Lake law firm, was at the federal building Wednesday and said she felt the needs of Utah small-business owners were being ignored by the state's officials in Washington, D.C.

"Main Street doesn’t seem to matter any more to Congress, it’s all about Wall Street," Lee said. "Our federal representatives, unfortunately, seem to be owned by Wall Street, and democracy is in chains and at risk."

Lee also called out Hatch, specifically, to support the rollback of the FCC decision.

"Orrin Hatch claims to be a supporter of small business and I expect to see him vote in favor of the CRA to reverse the FCC repeal," Lee said. "He’s not going to be around for another election and now, he can do the right thing."

Hatch's office staff did not respond to repeated requests Wednesday by the Deseret News for a comment on the resolution effort.

Following the publication of the FCC changes in the Federal Register on Feb. 22, congress has 60 days, or until June 12, to complete the resolution process.