Democrats in the US House of Representatives Wednesday rejected Republican attempts to weaken a bill that would restore net neutrality rules. The bill is short and simple—it would fully reinstate the rules implemented by the Federal Communications Commission under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2015, reversing the repeal led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in 2017.
It is fair to remind that the Obama-era rules were never fully implemented. The rules were designed to take effect in 2017, but the President Trump administration repealed all Obama-era measure without studying their validity. It’s also fair to remind people that Ajit Pai used to be a lobbyist for Verizon, so he had some motive to make sure those rules wouldn’t take effect.
The House Commerce Committee approved the “Save the Internet Act” in a 30-22 party-line vote, potentially setting up a vote of the full House next week.
Commerce Committee Republicans attempted to introduced amendments that would weaken the bill but were consistently rebuffed by the committee’s Democratic majority. Republican amendments would have weakened the bill by doing the following:
- Exempt all 5G wireless services from net neutrality rules.
- Exempt all multi-gigabit broadband services from net neutrality rules.
- Exempt from net neutrality rules any ISP that builds broadband service in any part of the US that doesn’t yet have download speeds of at least 25Mbps and upload speeds of at least 3Mbps.
- Exempt from net neutrality rules any ISP that gets universal service funding from the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program.
- Exempt ISPs that serve 250,000 or fewer subscribers from certain transparency rules that require public disclosure of network management practices.
- Prevent the FCC from limiting the types of zero-rating (i.e., data cap exemptions) that ISPs can deploy.
Another Republican amendment would have imposed net neutrality rules but declared that broadband is an information service. This would have prevented the FCC from imposing any other type of common-carrier regulations on ISPs. The committee did approve a Democratic amendment to exempt ISPs with 100,000 or fewer subscribers from the transparency rules, but only for one year.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) claimed that the Democrats’ bill “is not the net neutrality that people want” and is “actually more government socialism,” according to The Hill. A statement that is known to be false as many people support net neutrality. The new rules would regulate broadband in the same way telephone service is. But the primary opponents of the FCC’s net neutrality rules were broadband providers and Republicans in Congress, not the people at large.
The now-repealed net neutrality rules prohibited ISPs from blocking or throttling lawful content and from charging online services for prioritization. The Democrats’ bill would reinstate those rules and other consumer protections that used to be enforced by the FCC. For example, Pai’s repeal vote also wiped out a requirement that ISPs be more transparent with customers about hidden fees and the consequences of exceeding data caps.
“Our bill protects consumers and small businesses from abusive and discriminatory practices by Internet service providers and protects free speech and innovation,” Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said after yesterday’s vote. “It’s time for the full House to vote to keep the Internet open and free, and I will work to make that happen soon.”
Republicans in the FCC and Congress have claimed that the Federal Trade Commission can pick up the slack under its antitrust authority, but FTC Chairman Joseph Simons last week said that “blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization would not be per se antitrust violations.” In other words, ISPs can violate net neutrality as long as they publicly disclose that they are doing so.
Even if the Democrats’ bill passes the House, the road to restore net neutrality is long, because Republicans control the Senate and President Trump has opposed net neutrality rules.
The Senate did vote to reinstate net neutrality rules in May 2018, when three Republicans joined the Democratic minority in a 52-47 vote. But Republicans have since strengthened their Senate majority from 51-49 to 53-47.