Long-Shot Net-Neutrality Bill Introduced

The legislation would save the open Internet rules, but has little hope with Republicans.

Computer users are pictured in an internet cafe in Istanbul on September 3, 2009 where governmental censorship has banned websites including the video sharing site YouTube. Prohibited since 2007 YouTube remains in the top five most visited internet sites in Turkey. AFP PHOTO / UGUR CAN (Photo credit should read UGUR CAN/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Feb. 3, 2014, 10:25 a.m.

House and Sen­ate Demo­crats in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion Monday aimed at restor­ing fed­er­al net-neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions, which re­quire In­ter­net pro­viders to treat all web­sites equally.

But the bill has little hope of be­com­ing law. Re­pub­lic­ans are al­most en­tirely united in op­pos­i­tion to the In­ter­net rules, mean­ing the bill is un­likely to ever re­ceive a vote in the GOP-con­trolled House.

Last month, the D.C. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals struck down the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion’s net-neut­ral­ity rules, say­ing the agency over­stepped its au­thor­ity.

Sup­port­ers of the rules fear that In­ter­net pro­viders such as Com­cast, Time Warner, and Ve­r­i­zon could soon start slow­ing down web­sites that fail to pay spe­cial fees for ac­cess to In­ter­net “fast lanes.” The pro­viders could even block web­sites al­to­geth­er.

The Open In­ter­net Pre­ser­va­tion Act, in­tro­duced in the House by Henry Wax­man and Anna Eshoo and in the Sen­ate by Ed­ward Mar­key, would re­in­state the old rules un­til the FCC can en­act new reg­u­la­tions.

The bill would not ex­pand the FCC’s au­thor­ity, the law­makers said.

“The In­ter­net is an en­gine of eco­nom­ic growth be­cause it has al­ways been an open plat­form for com­pet­i­tion and in­nov­a­tion,” Wax­man, the top Demo­crat on the En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, said in a state­ment. “Our bill very simply en­sures that con­sumers can con­tin­ue to ac­cess the con­tent and ap­plic­a­tions of their choos­ing on­line.”

Mar­key said the le­gis­la­tion will en­sure that con­sumers “are pro­tec­ted un­til the FCC uses its clear au­thor­ity, as re­cog­nized by the court, to put in place re­place­ment rules.”

The oth­er co­spon­sors of the bill are House Demo­crats Frank Pal­lone, Dor­is Mat­sui, Mike Doyle, Zoe Lof­gren, Jan Schakowsky, Mi­chael Cap­uano, and Su­z­an Del­Bene, and Demo­crat­ic Sens. Richard Blu­menth­al, Al Franken, Tom Ud­all, Ron Wyden, and Jeff Merkley.

The le­gis­la­tion has no Re­pub­lic­an sup­port. All Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans and all but two House Re­pub­lic­ans voted to re­peal the FCC’s net-neut­ral­ity rules in 2011.

Con­ser­vat­ives ar­gue the FCC’s rules un­ne­ces­sar­ily re­strict the busi­ness de­cisions of In­ter­net pro­viders.

Rep. Greg Walden, the Re­pub­lic­an chair­man of the House Com­mu­nic­a­tions and Tech­no­logy Sub­com­mit­tee, said in a state­ment that he is will­ing to con­sider the bill as part of a broad­er dis­cus­sion of re-writ­ing com­mu­nic­a­tions law. 

“However, we re­main vig­or­ously op­posed to any at­tempt to in­stall the FCC as the traffic cop of the In­ter­net,” Walden said.

“In­nov­a­tion, job cre­ation, and con­sumer choice have all flour­ished without so-called Net Neut­ral­ity rules, and a de­par­ture from that frame­work would cer­tainly put Amer­ic­an lead­er­ship in com­mu­nic­a­tions and tech­no­logy in jeop­ardy.”

Al­though the bill is es­sen­tially dead-on-ar­rival in the House, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion does have op­tions for pro­tect­ing the prin­ciple of net neut­ral­ity.

FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er could re­clas­si­fy broad­band In­ter­net as a “tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions ser­vice,” which his agency has broad au­thor­ity to reg­u­late. Al­though the move would put the rules on firmer leg­al ground, it would spark a co­lossal fight with Re­pub­lic­ans.

Wheel­er has hin­ted that he may choose to use the FCC’s ex­ist­ing au­thor­ity to en­force net neut­ral­ity on a case-by-case basis. But that ap­proach would fail to sat­is­fy net neut­ral­ity’s most vo­cal sup­port­ers and would likely lead to more leg­al chal­lenges.

Wheel­er said last week that he will an­nounce the agency’s next step for deal­ing with net neut­ral­ity “soon.”

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