The New Net Neut Lite

Legislation from Ed Markey would leave network neutrality issues in FCC hands. 

Network neutrality re-emerged on Capitol Hill Feb. 13 as a political issue, although it is playing in the shallow end of the telecom reform pool. Call it network neutrality lite.

Under legislation introduced by Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Mississippi Republican Chip Pickering, the Federal Communications Commission's network neutrality principles would be "enshrined" into law and become "guide stars" for U.S. broadband policy.

The Internet Freedom Preservation Act (H.R. 5353) would also direct the FCC to hold eight public summits in a year to examine the current broadband marketplace and consumer rights.

That's a much different policy approach than Markey was pushing two years ago as the ranking minority member on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. Then, Markey proposed an amendment to a telecom reform bill favored by the majority Republicans that would prohibit broadband providers from charging content and service providers different rates based on bandwidth consumption.

Unlike the Markey statutory language approach, Republicans favor allowing the FCC to determine network neutrality complaints against broadband providers on a case-by-case basis. In urging committee members to vote for his amendment, Markey said, "This is the moment. You can't go back from here."

Turns out, you can. Markey's amendment was defeated at both the committee level and in a full House vote. A similar measure was defeated in the Senate Commerce Committee. The Republicans' telco reform bill also ultimately failed, leaving the matter where it began: in the hands of the FCC.

Since those votes, the Democrats have taken control of the House and the Senate and Markey is the chairman of the Telecommunications and Internet subcommittee. More than a year after taking over the panel, Markey finally introduced his long-promised network neutrality bill.

"The bill contains no requirements for regulations on the Internet whatsoever," Markey said Feb. 13. "It does, however, suggest that the principles which have guided the Internet's development and expansion are highly worthy of retention."

In other words, Markey's bill is far less ambitious than his 2006 proposal. The bill is so mellowed out from two years ago that Pickering, who voted against Markey's network neutrality amendment, is co-sponsoring the legislation.