D.C. Stakeholders Square Off Over Net Neutrality Bill Markup

Reaction was swift to the House Communications Subcommittee's referral of the Save the Internet Act to the full House Energy & Commerce Committee, the first step in its likely passage by the House and unlikely passage by the Senate or, if that were to be the case, the sign-off of the President who installed the current deregulatory chairman of the FCC.

That was certainly the prediction of NCTA-The Internet & Television Association.

“With today’s action, the subcommittee has stubbornly insisted on a partisan path that leads to a dead end," NCTA said following the party-line committee vote. "The result of allergically resisting a bipartisan approach to resolving this decades-old issue is that consumers will fail to receive the net neutrality protections that are generally accepted and industry will not get the certainty it needs to invest more boldly."

NCTA is on board with restoring bright line rules under FCC authority, but not under Title II and not with a broad general conduct standard that it argues could chill new broadband business models.

Related: Net Neutrality Rule Restoration Bill Clears First Hurdle

"Those that profit from sustained controversy are the only real winners," the association said. "The issue is simple. There is a real path to bipartisan compromise on a set of strong, enforceable net neutrality rules, but any approach is doomed that insists on bolting on expansive powers that allow the government to control and regulate the internet more broadly. Congress does not need Title II in order to adopt strong rules that survive judicial review, as the Commission arguably did.

"The Constitution gives it the power to write modern rules on a blank page, without resorting to the backward exercise of dumping a mountain of dated phone regulations on the internet and hoping they can chisel and keep out all the bad parts that will cause harm to this vibrant infrastructure. Hopefully, once we move past the messaging vote on this bill, legislators will sit down cooperatively and do the real work of legislating.”

Claude Aiken, president of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), echoed NCTA's concerns.

"While the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) is gratified that Congress is addressing ways that open Internet policies can bridge the digital divide, today’s House markup of H.R. 1644, the Save the Internet Act of 2019 (Act), belies that goal," said Aiken in a letter to the committee. "Re-imposing 85-year-old, Title II telephone regulation on the Internet is inapt for boosting Internet growth, especially when contrasted with the FCC’s present “light touch” policies, which are resulting in more transparency and choice for consumers across the U.S.

But there were plenty of net neutrality activists who saw the path leading to restored consumer protections from ISPs "abuses."

Net neutrality is coming back with a vengeance,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future.

“Politicians are slowly learning that they can’t get away with shilling for big telecom anymore," she said. "We’re harnessing the power of the Internet to save it, and any lawmaker who stands in our way will soon face the wrath of their constituents, who overwhelmingly want lawmakers to restore these basic protections. The Save the Internet Act is a straightforward bill that basically says what the entire Internet public is thinking. It sends Ajit Pai packing and keeps the Internet awesome. Lawmakers should pass it as soon as possible.”

“We applaud the subcommittee’s vote to advance a clean bill," said Joshua Stager, senior counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute. "We urge the full committee to quickly take up this bill and move it to the House floor for a final vote...”

“Free Press Action thanks the Communications and Technology Subcommittee for passing the Save the Internet Act, and taking the first step toward restoring Net Neutrality and other vital broadband protections," said campaign director Candace Clement. "People need strong Net Neutrality rules to protect their online civil rights, and that’s exactly what this bill delivers."

“Today's vote by the Subcommittee to approve the Save the Internet Act is a critical step for Congress to restore strong net neutrality consumer protections," said Public Knowledge senior policy counsel Phillip Berenbroick. "Members of the Subcommittee have carefully weighed the issues and listened to the more than 80 percent of Americans who consistently say they support restoring the protections the FCC adopted in the 2015 Open Internet Order."

John Eggerton

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.