Legislation aimed at regulating how Internet providers such as Comcast offer Internet service to their customers has collapsed, said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman and Sen. Harry Waxman (D-Calif.), who also authored the proposed bill. A draft of the bill was leaked earlier this week, which would curb the FCC's (Federal Communications Commission) ability to enforce the guidelines laid out in the bill after two years. The agency would also not be allowed to impose additional rules on Internet service providers, the draft mandated.
A lack of support from Republicans made it impossible for the legislation to pass before Congress' mid-term elections, Waxman said. "With great regret, I must report that Ranking Member Barton has informed me that support for this legislation will not be forthcoming at this time," he said in a prepared statement. "This development is a loss for consumers and a gain only for the extremes. We need to break the deadlock on net neutrality so that we can focus on building the most open and robust Internet possible."
The proposed legislation was termed as a temporary fix to protect net neutrality while Congress considered a permanent solution. The bill would have prohibited wireless broadband providers from blocking Websites, as well as applications that compete with voice or video conferencing and restore for two years the FCC's authority to prevent blocking of Internet content, applications and services. "If our efforts to find bipartisan consensus fail, the FCC should move forward under Title II," Waxman said. "The bottom line is that we must protect the open Internet. If Congress can't act, the FCC must."
Waxman's proposal for the FCC would see the agency move phone and cable companies into Title II, or Broadcast Servers, section of the Telecommunications Act passed in 1996. Title II outlines the granting and licensing of broadcast spectrum by the government, including a provision to issue licenses to current television stations to commence digital television broadcasting, the terms of broadcast licenses, direct broadcast satellite services and restrictions on over-the-air reception devices.
"Under our proposal, the FCC could begin enforcing these open Internet rules immediately-with maximum fines increased from $75,000 to $2 million for violations," Waxman explained. "I do not close the door on moving legislation this Congress. Cooler heads may prevail after the elections. But I want my position to be clear: My goal is the best outcome for consumers."
Digital rights pubic interest group Public Knowledge issued a statement agreeing with Waxman's position that the FCC needs to step in to legally protect consumers of broadband wireline and wireless Internet service. "We are in full agreement with Chairman Waxman that the FCC must act now to protect consumers by reinstating its authority over broadband," said Public Knowledge President and co-founder Gigi Sohn. "We expect the FCC to do so to carry out one of the fundamental promises of the Obama administration. Consumers for far too long have been without the legal protections the FCC can provide. The economy will need the boost that the National Broadband Plan and expanded affordable access to broadband could provide. These will not be possible unless the FCC takes action."
Sohn thanked Waxman and his staff for work that went into trying to craft "rudimentary rules of the road" for the Internet. "We also observe that this effort would not have been needed had the FCC followed through in its responsibility to set national telecommunications policy. We can wait no longer," Sohn said. "We expect those members of Congress who argued that it was Congress' duty to set telecommunications policy would recognize the authority of the FCC in the absence of legislation."