Two Democratic senators unveiled a new bill to codify broadband as an essential service and prevent discriminatory practices.
Democrats want to tackle both broadband accessibility and net neutrality with new legislation that promotes equitable access to high-speed connectivity and fair competition for online service providers.
Announced on Thursday by Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act brings back the debate over digital speech regulation that has been discussed on Capitol Hill for over a decade and ties it to expanding internet coverage nationwide.
“We’re on a mission and we are going to complete it, because, after all, broadband consumers are smart,” Markey said during a press briefing. “They know when it comes to their internet service providers, voluntary rules and self regulation just won't cut it. So we need that neutrality.”
The pending legislation would classify broadband internet access as a telecommunications service, and therefore an essential service under Title II of the Communications Act, allowing the Federal Communications Commission to create a “just broadband future for everyone,” according to Markey.
Some of the regulations Markey hopes to see instated are rules preventing internet service providers from blocking or slowing down customers’ internet access, and charging some websites to reach users at quicker speeds than others, creating an uneven playing field for e-commerce and other businesses.
“Net neutrality is just a fancy word for non-discrimination,” he said.
Wyden reiterated the need to prevent major cable and broadband companies from controlling net neutrality.
“The big cable just wants the typical person to be part of a regime where they pay, and then pay again, and then pay again for the kinds of services that the big guys with the deep pockets are in a position to get with considerable ease,” Wyden said.
Both of the bill’s sponsors underscored the need to reverse FCC policies enacted during the Trump presidency that supported deregulation of broadband coverage nationwide. Among other powers, the bill grants the FCC’s ability to police harmful competition practices against consumers that broadband providers may engage in.
A notable caveat to the bill is that it does not impose broadband rules on the FCC; rather, it allows the agency to create new regulations and restrictions over broadband companies.
“The new bill would restore FCC authority to take action when necessary in dealing with broadband abuse,” he said.
Markey has been spearheading the fight to support net neutrality in the Senate, previously confirming his goal of classifying broadband service providers as essential public utilities under Title II.