Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has introduced a bill, the
Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act of 2011,
that would create a new section under Title II of the Communications Act
enshrining the FCC's six new network neutrality rules and applying them to
Those were steps the FCC was not willing to take, at least
not as part of its Dec. 21 vote to expand and codify its network neutrality
guidelines. But the commission did apply transparency and site-blocking
prohibitions to wireless as part of that vote, said it would revisit the
wireless space down the road, and left open the possibility of reclassifying
Internet access services under Title II, though said it could justify its Title
I ancillary authority.
Cantwell was joined by co-sponsor Al Franken (D-Minn.). Both
were critical of the FCC rules as not going far enough. They were the product
of talks with industry stakeholders, many of whom, including Comcast, signaled
that while they thought the regs were unnecessary, they could live with them.
In fact, Comcast agreed to live with them regardless of whether they were
thrown out by the courts (Verizon and MetroPCS have already sued the FCC).
According to Cantwell's office and a draft of the bill, it
would go beyond the FCC's new regs to prevent paid prioritization (the new regs
don't prevent it, though they assume it is discrimination unless an affirmative
case can be made for it). It would also address the complaining by Level 3
about peering agreements as de facto discrimination. "The bill also calls
for broadband providers to work with local, middle-mile providers on fair and
reasonable terms and network management conditions," Cantwell said in a statement.
But there is much more. It would also apply all those regs
to wireless as well as wired broadband. The FCC said wireless architecture was
sufficiently different to warrant not imposing the same obligations.
The bill would also promote broadband adoption by requiring
broadband service to be supplied to anyone on "reasonable request,"
require stand-alone broadband be offered at reasonable rates and terms and make
that stand-alone requirement the price of Universal Service Fund participation.
Those are the billions that come from customers and would go to subsidize
broadband in places where it would be uneconomical to supply it on a free market
The Senate bill would essentially undo the compromise
reached by the FCC. It is unlikely to gain any traction in the House, where the
Republican majority is opposed to the compromise net neutrality rules, much
less the Cantwell proposal to tighten and toughen them.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.