Congress Seeks Temporary Respite in Net Neutrality Fight

by Matt Klassen on February 5, 2014

It looks like the Federal Communications Commission’s Net Neutrality standards may have found the congressional allies they’ve needed for so long now, as Democrats have introduced legislation in the US Senate and House of Representatives that would temporarily grant the FCC the ability to uphold its Net Neutrality rules in maintenance of an open Internet until the FCC can develop rules that have firm legal grounding.

This comes following a court decision last month that ostensibly tossed the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules on a technicality, the Commission having wrongly classified broadband services. Amidst such a crushing defeat, however, the FCC was shown the way forward, and these two bills (PDF) are designed to offer Internet users the protection they need against discriminatory network management until a permanent solution can be found.

But if you thought that the road was finally getting easier for the FCC’s much needed Net Neutrality, such stopgap Band-Aid solutions are really only postponing the one crucial step the FCC will need to make soon: reclassifying broadband service as a telecommunication service; a decision that will ignite a firestorm of opposition the likes of which this ongoing saga has not yet seen.

When the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules were struck down in court last month it wasn’t because the FCC didn’t have the authority to impose such standards—thus rejecting Verizon’s core argument—but instead because the FCC doesn’t have the authority as yet to impose telecommunications standards on broadband service. Simply put, the FCC based its Open Internet argument on the understanding that it believed broadband network must follow the telecommunication industry’s “common carriage” rules, and because broadband service isn’t a telecommunications service by definition, the FCC’s case fell apart.

What’s strange in all this is that the definition of broadband services as “information services” and not “telecommunications services” is one that comes from the FCC itself, meaning a simply reclassification would be necessary to make the FCC’s standards stick.

But if there was ever a case of “easier-said-than-done,” it would be this one, as although the FCC has said nothing official about its plans for reclassification, the very idea of reclassifying broadband services under telecommunications services will undoubtedly have the communications providers up in arms, lobbying incessantly to keep the decision from passing through the various government channels.

Of course the likes of AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast don’t want to see the reclassification because it would mean Internet and network management would be regulated like the old telephone network, good for the consumer (most often), but bad for business.

The proposed bill has the support of six Democratic Senators, including Ed Markey (Mass.), Al Franken (Minn.), and Ron Widen (Ore.) Nine Democrats in the House are sponsoring the bill, including Henry Waxman (Calif.), Anna Eshoo (Conn.), Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), Doris Matsui (Calif.), and Mike Doyle (Penn.). As Markey explains, “This bill ensures consumers are protected until the FCC uses its clear authority, as recognized by the court, to put in place replacement rules.

That said, the FCC’s Net Neutrality standards still face an uphill battle, as even these two proposed bills will likely not make it through the legislative process, as both Republicans and some Democrats have shown an unwillingness to support such Open Internet rules.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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