Democrats Not Down With GOP Net Neutrality Bill

Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Al Franken (Minn.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) are not onboard with a Republican-backed network neutrality bill that will be the subject of hearings in the House and Senate Wednesday (Jan. 21).

The bill would prevent online blocking, discrimination and paid prioritization, its backers point out, all things many Democrats favor. But it would also limit the FCC's authority under Sec. 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which the FCC uses to buttress regulatory moves to promote broadband deployment and adoption.

The bill is backed by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, who had billed it as potentially bipartisan.

The Democratic senators took the opportunity to welcome the Republicans into the pro-net neutrality protection fold, but not with the bill they have proposed.

“Senator Thune and the Republicans are right to acknowledge what nearly 4 million Americans have said in their comments to the FCC in support of net neutrality rules – that open Internet rules are critical to free speech and innovation," they said in a joint statement. "We appreciate that the Republican bill also recognizes that net neutrality principles should apply regardless of the technology used to connect to the Internet. We stand ready and willing to work with our Republican colleagues, but unfortunately, the bill as currently drafted would dramatically undermine the FCC’s vital role in protecting consumers and small businesses online by limiting its enforcement and rulemaking authorities in this critically important area.  Further, the Republican bill would severely curtail the FCC’s ability to promote the deployment of broadband service. The FCC has the necessary authority to enact the open Internet rules that millions of Americans have called for and that Republicans finally support. The Commission should act without delay.”

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has said that he plans to vote on new rules, likely reclassifying broadband access under Title II, at the Feb. 26 meeting, which means circulating his proposal to the other commissioners on Feb. 5, three weeks before the meeting, as is customary.

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.