Emerging Tech

Long-Shot Net-Neutrality Bill Introduced

Lynne Sladky/AP

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.

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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