Authorities have arrested and charged an upstate New York man with allegedly threatening a U.S. Congressman over net neutrality. The suspect allegedly phoned in the threat to the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Rep. John Katko, a Republican from the Syracuse area who is serving his second term in Congress representing New York’s 24th district.
The U.S. Attorney’s office claims that the suspect left a voicemail on October 17, which included the following remarks, Variety reported.
“Listen Mr. Katko, if you support net neutrality, I will support you. But if you don’t support net neutrality, I will find you and your family and I will kill … you … all. Do you understand?”
After Katko’s office alerted them, Capitol Police and the FBI apparently managed to track down the suspect by tracing his telephone number. If convicted, the suspect could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine for threatening to kill a member of Congress, the Washington Free Beacon noted. The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle explains that the specific charges are interstate communication of a threat and threatening a federal official.
Since Katko previously served as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York, the case was moved to the Western District to avoid any conflicts of interest.
There is no net neutrality legislation pending before Congress at this time.
Now with a Republican majority, the Federal Communications Commission, under Chairman Ajit Pai, is expected to vote on a repeal of net neutrality during its December 14 open meeting, however. Net neutrality has been on the FCC’s regulatory books for only two years. Most, if not all, big tech companies favor net neutrality.
In a statement about the alleged Katko threat, Chairman Pai had this to say.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms any attempts to intimidate government officials with violent threats, and in particular, efforts to target their families. I would also like to express my sympathy to Congressman Katko and his family and thank law enforcement officials for taking this matter seriously.”
Pai has also reportedly received numerous abusive and racist messages and threats on social media from net neutrality supporters, and pro-net neutrality protesters have even turned up outside his personal residence to target his family.
In a party line vote on February 26, 2015, with the Democrats holding the majority at the time, the FCC voted 3-2 in favor of a complicated 300-plus-page set of regulations that reclassifies Internet Service Providers as so-called common carriers or public utilities, like old-time phone companies, thereby making them subject to federal government regulation. The FCC derived its regulatory authority to do so from Title II of the vintage Communications Act of 1934.
Previously making it clear that Obama-era rules that he considered interfering with free-market innovation and competition were on the chopping block, Pai has stated repeatedly that he wants to reintroduce to the so-called light touch regulatory regime that was in effect from the Bill Clinton administration forward up until two years ago. A net neutrality rollback would return jurisdiction over ISPs to the Federal Trade Commission.
As alluded to above, Silicon Valley strongly supports the continuance of net neutrality. The Chicago Tribune offered a somewhat different view.
“There’s a lot of concern, especially among Democrats, that deregulating internet communications is going to hurt consumers. The fear: Internet providers (cable companies and wireless carriers) will usurp control of bandwidth for their own benefit…First, deregulation will not usher in a digital chaos. The FCC and Federal Trade Commission will still have oversight responsibilities. Second, net neutrality is a new concept promulgated by the Obama administration. The internet operated without these restrictions previously without adverse effects. If deregulation doesn’t work, it can be modified or reversed. Congress also can weigh in.”
According to the Washington Examiner, the Ford Foundation and liberal billionaire George Soros donated about $200 million in 2015 to pro-net neutrality organizations.