Net neutrality legislation unveiled by Republicans today would gut the ability of the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the broadband industry.
As expected, the bill forbids the FCC from reclassifying broadband as a common carrier service, preventing the commission from using authority it has under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. This is the statute the FCC uses to regulate landline telephone providers.
The bill—full text here—also targets a portion of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Section 706 of the Actinstructs the FCC to accelerate deployment of broadband to all Americans “by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.” The FCC is considering using this authority to preempt state laws that limit the rights of cities and towns to build broadband networks.
That will be off the table if Republicans get their way. The bill text amends communications law “to prohibit the Commission or a State commission from relying on section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as a grant of authority.” It also defines broadband as an “information service,” preventing the FCC from treating broadband providers as common carriers.
Obama could veto the bill even if it passes through Congress. The FCC is expected to vote on reclassifying broadband providers and enforcing net neutrality rules on February 26.
The bill released today does include the major net neutrality principles supported by President Obama and the FCC. It would prohibit paid prioritization, throttling, and blocking of “lawful content and non-harmful devices,” while requiring transparency of network management practices. The bill defines paid prioritization as “the speeding up or slowing down of some Internet traffic in relation to other Internet traffic over the consumer’s broadband Internet access service by prioritizing or deprioritizing packets based on compensation or lack thereof by the sender to the broadband Internet access service provider.”
There are some exceptions, though. The bill allows broadband providers to offer “specialized services… other than broadband Internet access service that are offered over the same network as, and that may share network capacity with, broadband Internet access service.”
Specialized services will be legal unless they are “offered or provided in ways that threaten the meaningful availability of broadband Internet access service or that have been devised or promoted in a manner designed to evade the purposes of this section.”
One ambiguous line could be interpreted to allow “user-directed prioritization,” in which paid prioritization of certain Internet services is allowed in cases when consumers have specifically approved it. “Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit consumers’ choice of service plans or consumers’ control over their chosen broadband Internet access service,” the bill says. AT&T hassupported user-directed prioritization.
Republicans also want to make sure ISPs can seek out and prevent copyright infringement.
“Nothing in this section… prohibits reasonable efforts by a provider of broadband Internet access service to address copyright infringement or other unlawful activity,” the bill says.