Congress Weighs Legislation That Would Trump FCC Internet Proposal

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2015-02-10 Print this article Print
FCC Web Regulation

The proposed legislation would keep the Internet classified as an Information Service, and clarify the intent of Section 706 of the Communications Act (which is what the FCC is using for part of its proposal) as not being a grant of regulatory authority.

While this proposed legislation does limit the FCC's authority to some extent, it does accomplish the ends that the FCC has been trying to achieve for the past few years, and which have been overturned by the federal courts because Congress hasn't authorized the commission to take action.

Notably, the proposed legislation is a bipartisan bill. Both House of Representatives and Senate committees have been working on this legislation for years, and it's only now seeing the light of day following the proposed Title II action by Wheeler.

For his part, Wheeler has said on more than one occasion that it's Congress that makes the rules that he follows, and he has not gone on record as opposing the legislation that's under discussion.

It's also worth noting that both Wheeler and his predecessor have been reluctant to place the Internet under Title II, and they have resisted doing so for years. It was only after the president publicly said that he wanted it done this way that the FCC changed direction. This, of course, is why Congress is investigating.

Remember, though, this is Washington. Not everything that goes on here is what it appears to be. Might it be that the FCC, growing weary of waiting for Congress to move, finally found its regulatory cattle prod? It could be that Wheeler's Title II proposal actually is what's needed to get Congress to take action on effective legislation.

A look at the proposed congressional action makes it seem this way. Here are the specific goals as put for by both committees:

--Prohibit blocking

--Prohibit throttling

--Prohibit paid prioritization

--Require transparency

--Apply rules to both wireline and wireless

--Allow for reasonable network management

--Allow for specialized services

--Protect consumer choice

--Classify broadband Internet access as an information service under the Communications Act

--Clarify that Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act may not be used as a grant of regulatory authority

--Direct the FCC to enforce and abide by these principles

If those points (except the final one) look like they were written by the FCC, you would share the view expressed by many observers. The fact that this proposal is bipartisan and seems to echo the positions of a number of Democratic lawmakers makes it seem likely that this could pass.

Because it codifies the FCC's long-held intent and the president's goals (except the part about Title II), it could even be that the president would sign this legislation. But will it become law? As long as it escapes partisan bickering or strenuous telecom industry resistance and lobbying, it might. Stranger things have happened.



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