Eshoo: Net Neutrality Bill Would Tie FCC's Hands

The Republican-backed bill to define the FCC's authority over an open Internet is meant to head off an FCC vote Feb. 26 on a new Open Internet order by offering up legislative language on what the FCC and can't regulate in terms of Internet access.

While its backers hoped for some bipartisan support, that has been slow in coming.

According to her prepared opening remarks for a hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee Jan. 21, subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) thinks the legislation is a bill of rights for "various companies" that would tie the FCC's hands by preventing Title II reclassification, create a "huge loophole" for specialized services to create prioritized fast lanes — special services were allowed under the FCC's old Open Internet order — is biased against enforcement, harms the deployment of rural broadband and could restrict access to utility poles.

That is because the draft "clarifies" that the FCC's section 706 is not an affirmative grant of authority. That is the section of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that says that the FCC can take various regulatory steps if advanced telecom is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. Under recent Democratic chairs, the FCC has concluded it was not being so deployed, and has been pushing rural broadband and addressing rights-of-way impediments in response.

She also doesn't like the draft's limitation of the FCC's powers to the issues it enumerates — blocking, discrimination, paid prioritization.

"The proposal also attempts to address specific forms of discrimination, but who today knows with any certainty what tomorrow’s forms of discrimination will be? The proposal takes away the authority of the FCC to address them."

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.