Democrats Look to Amend Rate Reg-Blocking Act

Democrats on the House Communications Subcommitte are introducing amendments to limit a bill that would prevent the FCC from using Title II to impose rate regs on Internet access service.

The Republican bill, H. 2666, the No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act, is being marked up in the subcommittee Feb. 11.

Some Democrats, including ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) are concerned it is far too broad and could eviscerate the FCC’s authority to protect consumers against truth in billing practices and discriminatory data caps; to ensure broadband availability through USF and E-Rate; to address rate-related issues in merger reviews; to ensure enforcement against paid prioritization; and other essential consumer protections.

An amendment expected to be taken up at the markup would try and assure the bill does none of those things by saying nothing in the act could be construed to affect the FCC's ability to regulate discriminatory or prevent unfair business practices, regulate billing practices (as distinguished from prices, presumably), affect Universal Service Fund subsidies, enforce its new Open Internet rules or affect its merger review authority.

Another amendment, in the form of a substitute for the Republican bill, would simply state that the FCC can't unforbear from the specific rate regulation provisions it forbore (chose not to apply) in reclassifying ISPs under Title II.

Republicans are concerned the FCC could use other authority not forborn to do some back-door rate regulating. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has said the new rules are not intended to include rate regs, but Republicans want to rate-reg proof the rules from future FCC and FCC chairs that might see it differently.

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.